(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
This weekend’s series against No. 6 Nebraska-Omaha will signify one of the last “firsts” for Arizona State hockey in its first NCAA Season.
After the dust settles at Baxter Arena following this weekend’s two-game series, the Sun Devils will have played a team from every major hockey conference in the NCAA, with the NCHC being the last.
It’s just another step for a program that has already made a monumental leap.
“Playing a Frozen Four, currently ranked top-5 team on the road will be a tremendous experience for our young group and will undoubtedly make us better as we continue to build our program,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said in a statement.
Just a week removed from being swept by RPI, Powers’ team will need to bounce back against the highest-ranked team the program has ever faced.
The Mavericks are coming into the series on the heels of a split with St. Cloud State on the road. Points leader Jake Guentzel scored two goals in the series and enters the weekend with 24 points on the year. Guentzel ranks sixth in the nation in total points.
For Arizona State, the key will be slowing down Guentzel and forcing the Mavericks to operate the offense from a different perspective.
Furthermore, the Sun Devils will need to turn the tables on the Mavericks, a team that allows just 2.44 goals per game, and get freshman forward Jordan Masters going early.
Masters is currently riding a 10-game point streak and has been the focal point of the Arizona State offensive attack all year.
Nothing is going to come easy against UNO goaltender Evan Weniger, who has started 10 games for the Mavericks, winning all but one. Weniger dons a 1.919 average goals allowed mark, the 13th best in the nation.
For Arizona State, the game will come down to the efficiency of the defense against a potent offensive attack. Nebraska-Omaha is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, averaging 3.38 goals per game.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, the goalie assignments should remain the same as they were last weekend for the Devils. Ryland Pashovitz should get the nod in game one on Saturday, and Robert Levin in the series finale on Sunday.
Pashovitz had 40 saves against RPI last Friday, while Levin had 30 on Saturday.
The Mavericks will be the most well-rounded team the Devils will have faced all season. The true test in this series will not be whether or not the Sun Devils head back to Tempe with a victory under their belts – that might be unrealistic. Rather, it’s going to be how hard Arizona State can combat what might be the most complete team in the nation on hostile ice.
The Sun Devils have made strides this season, but none quite as big as the stride they could take this weekend against a Goliath Nebraska-Omaha team.
Puck drop is at 7:07 p.m. on Saturday and at 2:07 p.m. on Sunday.