There is nothing like a warm welcome back to Tempe. Heck, just ask head football coach Todd Graham how it felt to come back with the Territorial Cup after beating Arizona two weekends ago.
ASU hockey head coach Greg Powers had a similar feeling. For the first time in program history, the Sun Devils beat an NCAA Division I program, and many teams in the ACHA personally congratulated the coach Powers and the team.
This weekend, they face a different kind of animal. The top ranked Sun Devils host a weekend series against No.3 Robert Morris-Illinois. What people may not know is that the Eagles have outscored their opponents 40-6 in the month of November and goaltender Andy DiCristofaro has two shutouts in that same span, and backup Anthony Petrak only gave up one goal on 48 shots in his last two appearances.
ASU netminder Joe D’Elia isn’t too shabby either. The Sun Devils knew they needed a strong defensive performance against the Nittany Lions and they got that from D’Elia and company for Saturday night’s win.
Veteran forwards Dan Styrna and Kale Dolinski each scored two goals last weekend, and the top line will now feature Colin Hekle, Stephen Collins and Styrna due to sophomore Faiz Khan’s upper body injury. Khan’s injury will cause him to miss this weekend and possibly the Canadian showcase at the end of the month.
This series should prove to be another strong test for the Sun Devils considering they are playing a Robert Morris team that could potentially overtake ASU as the top team in the league. In order to do that, the Eagles would need to win at least one game in Tempe and more than likely sweep the Sun Devils for that to happen.
Despite Robert Morris playing a more defensive-minded game, 12 players have double digit points on the season, and juniors Gehrett Sargis and Christopher Cimoch each have more than ten goals. Freshman forward and Russia-native Oleg Popov has been a pleasant surprise for the Eagles this season as he leads the team with 17 assists and three game-winning goals.
ASU has played some of its best hockey at home this season and nothing has prepared them better for Robert Morris than their victory over Penn State. We all know that the offense comes out guns blazing every series, but the Sun Devils can run away with a series sweep if they can find the same focus and intensity they had last weekend.
Both games should be very competitive ACHA hockey, but the weekend is favoring Sparky. Keep in mind the Eagles have not played in a game since November 17. The Sun Devils can steal the ACHA spotlight if they can escape with two victories heading into finals week.
The series opens tonight at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe at 8 p.m., and game two is 7 p.m. on Saturday.