(Photo: Alexis Ramanjulu/WCSN)
Opening night for the Arizona State ACHA Elite hockey team showed an aspect of the game that the Sun Devils are very familiar from last season: dominant goaltending.
Former ASU Division I goaltender Lucas Felbel stood tall in net and gave his new team all the defense it needed with a 22-save shutout as he led ASU to a 1-0 season-opening win over the Weber State Wildcats.
Goaltending was perhaps the biggest strength of head coach Dennis Leclair’s group last year, with Ryan Seltenreich, Al Taylor and David Aman all amassing goals against averages of 1.91 or better.
Felbel, who posted a 2-0 record with a 2.31 goals against average playing under Robert Levin last season, will share the net with Levin’s other backup from last season, Jordan Gluck, who posted a 2.32 GAA.
The game could’ve gotten out of hand quickly for Weber State had they not had a goaltender matching Felbel shot for shot.
Lucas Thatcher was the best player on the ice all night for the Wildcats, as he was peppered all night and faced a total of 46 ASU shots, turning away 45 of them.
The only shot to sneak past Thatcher was a show of remarkable chemistry and skill by the Sun Devils, as Drew Schwietz set up Wilson Housley’s goal with a no-look cross-crease pass that left Housley with a wide-open net to put the puck past Thatcher at 8:28 of the second period.
A win is a win, but the Sun Devils showed room for improvement during long stages of the game.
Rather than jumping out to an early lead and showing a true advantage in skill, ASU had a true battle on their hands against Weber State, as the Wildcats were able to match the Sun Devils in physicality, special teams play, and goaltending.
The Devils were unable to connect on many of their attempted stretch passes, and at times they seemed to be playing on their heels and let the Wildcats dominate possession.
The Wildcats were also able to force the Sun Devils into taking uncharacteristic penalties, including cross-checking, slashing, and elbowing.
However, they seemed to generate more chances 5-on-5 than with the man advantage, as the ASU penalty kill was the shining star of the game for Leclair’s side, successful all seven times it was called upon.
ASU’s most critical kill came on a 4-on-3 and subsequent 5-on-4 power play when Housley and Zach Bayer were sent to the box within 50 seconds of each other within the first four minutes of the third period
The Sun Devils showed that they may not be the team from last season that had the ability to score upwards of 15 a game, with 138 combined points from Justin Havriliak, Brady Morgan and Jason Kuta now gone, but absolutely have the ability to play shutdown defense when they have to.
ASU has all the attributes of a top-tier team such as quality goaltending, effective special-teams play and timely goal-scoring, but only time will tell if that will translate into the national championship that the team so desperately covets.