(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils are all too familiar with Oceanside Ice Arena. The home of ASU hockey since 1985, the team has gone through one of their longest stretches of games without returning home since the program began.
After six straight road games, Arizona State will return to Tempe for a double dose of exhibition games against Alberta, who plays in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). It will be the first time ASU hockey has played a team from the CIS.
Since the games are only exhibitions, they won’t count for or against ASU’s record, but that doesn’t take away from their importance. The Sun Devils have not played in front of their home fans in over a month, so they will finally be able to have that advantage.
“We are looking forward to being at home just to get a few games in,” ASU assistant coach Alex Hicks said. “We are tweaking a few things that we need to improve on, but I think we are in a good place as far as our overall progress.”
Unlike most of ASU’s games, Alberta presents more of a mystery. The Golden Bears boast a 12-3-1 record in the CIS, but have yet to play an NCAA team this season, and there hasn’t been much evidence as far as how CIS matches up with NCAA hockey. Both teams will face a unique challenge this week due to the overall uncertainty and lack of familiarity going into the matchup.
After approaching the .500 mark, the Sun Devils dropped a pair of games in Potsdam, N.Y. against Clarkson University last weekend, putting their record at 5-8. While they have had their ups and downs, ASU is expecting to play better as the season moves along. There is a sense of confidence in the locker room that revolves around reaching the .500 mark and even eclipsing it during the season.
It can be assumed that Ryland Pashovitz will start at least one game this weekend, having effectively been named the starter by head coach Greg Powers. “Pash” has played in ten of the 13 Sun Devil games, having started nine of them.
Meanwhile, it appears that Robert Levin – not David Jacobson –will serve as the backup goaltender. The junior Levin, who is finally healthy after battling injury problems over the past month, will also serve as a mentor to the two freshmen.
Despite his limited playing time this season, the coaching staff has been impressed with how he has fared this season, especially last weekend.
“I think he looked great,” Hicks said. “We are really surprised with how well he has done after that big injury that he had. He has been fantastic and we are excited to watch him play more.”
Forward Jordan Masters has continued to garner attention on the offensive end for ASU. His five goals and 14 points lead the team, while he is second in assists with nine.
Looking at the Sun Devils foe this weekend, Alberta is currently second in the Canada West conference within the CIS. They have received a majority of their offensive contributions from their duo of Jordan Hickmott (eight goals, 15 assists, 23 points) and Levko Koper (9-10-19). Their goalie Luke Semiens leads the conference with a 1.90 goals against average.
“This is probably going to be our toughest challenge,” Hicks said. “This is an older team, a skilled team. We are looking at them and it’s going to be real tough.”
The experience of Alberta, who has already played 21 games as opposed to the Sun Devils 13 contests, might give them a leg up on ASU, who will get a good grasp on their competition from north of the border in these next couple games.
The two teams will square off on both Friday and Saturday at Oceanside. Puck drop will be at 7:30 p.m. Arizona time on both nights.