(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Sun Devil hockey (1-1-0) will face its first ranked opponent this season in a two-game series with No. 19 Air Force (1-0-1) on Friday and Saturday. This marks the first time the Falcons will host Arizona State at Cadet Ice Arena.
ASU hosted Air Force in 2016 at Gila River Arena for a two-game set. The Sun Devils fell to the Falcons 4-3 in the series opener but muscled their first win over a ranked NCAA opponent at home in the second game.
The special teams performance was ASU’s saving grace during the matchup last season; the young team killed all six penalties in the first game and scored twice on five power plays in the second game.
Then-freshman Joey Daccord replaced former Sun Devil goaltender Rob Levin in the second period of the first game, allowing only one goal by the Falcons. In the second matchup, ASU head coach Greg Powers called Daccord’s second collegiate start “incredible” after Daccord saved 24 of 26 shots between the pipes.
The series-split against then-No. 18 Air Force included key points from Robbie Baillargeon and Wade Murphy – both of whom are no longer on the ASU roster.
However, ASU sophomores Tyler Busch and Brett Gruber posted a combined three goals that weekend, and return this season on ASU’s first line alongside freshman Johnny Walker.
Unlike the Sun Devils, the six Falcons who scored in the series are accounted for on Air Force’s 2017-18 roster. One of those six was sophomore Pierce Pluemer, who scored all three points in the Falcons’ 3-0 exhibition victory against University of Lethbrige on Oct. 2.
Air Force finished last season with a program-best ranking at No. 12 in the nation and a 27-10-5 record. While the Sun Devils head into their third season of NCAA play, this season is the Falcons’ 50th year in action and fourth year as the favorite in the Atlantic Hockey preseason poll.
After splitting the series with UMass-Amherst last weekend, Powers acknowledged the need for improvement heading into this week with against a consistently ranked Air Force.
“There’s not a guy in that room that can’t look themselves in the mirror and say they could’ve done something a lot better, and played a lot harder,” Powers said. “They have a lot more in them, and we’re going to have to be really good next week.”
Although both UMass and ASU were 0-4 on the power play, the failure to capitalize on the man advantage was a reminder of last season’s power play goal percentage of 13 percent.
Friday the 13th will indeed test the skills of the nation’s ninth-ranked recruiting class heading into a three-week road trip.
“We have no choice but to make it benefit us – and we will,” Powers said. “It’s going to be good for our young guys to go out and be in that experience, but it’s one game at a time.”