(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)
With the Sun Devils sitting on a two-week break at 19-0-0, it seemed like about the time of year to start asking a certain question: Will ASU hockey go undefeated this season? Few are better equipped to answer that question than the people who watch and analyze ASU hockey game in and game out. WCSN’s hockey writers and on-air analysts know hockey and know this Sun Devil team – but do they know if the team will run the table this year?
With Minot State out of the way, ASU is in the driver’s seat on the road to the national championship and to an undefeated regular season record. While you could argue that the team’s schedule gets tougher the rest of the season, as eight of the next 17 games after this weekend pit the Sun Devils against top-10 opponents, they have been playing in a league of their own. They have yet to allow an opponent to more than two goals a game, due in large part to a highly successful timesharing experiment between Joe D’Elia and Robert Levin. Arizona State goes to Tuscon twice in December and twice in February, but the 7-7-0 Wildcats aren’t overwhelmingly better than other WCHL competition and they have a very grueling, difficult 26-game second half of the season, featuring four games against Minot State and six games against the Sun Devils. We know the depth is there; as long as the guys on the fringe of the roster continue to find the score sheet, there will be a zero in the loss column this season.
If there is one team talented enough to run the table, it is Arizona State. Given the type of depth that this team is equipped with, it will take an off night from most of the guys — as well as a strong effort from their opponent — to knock them off. I do believe it will happen sooner or later. There are just too many variables involved. Over the course of a season, teams are not going to click every night out on the ice. We have already seen the Sun Devils come close to defeat on a couple of occasions on nights where their offense simply could not find the twine. With the rest of the league out to knock off the undefeated and top ranked team in the nation, a couple more poor showings and it is not likely that they can continue to pull out these ugly victories like they have in recent weeks. They have shown just how dominant they can be but there have been too many nights where they seemed beatable. I can not picture Arizona State losing more than a couple games, however, and they remain a clear favorite to be crowned National Champions when things are all said and done.
It’s possible. Robert Levin and Joe D’Elia have shut down their opponents, pitching a shutout in five of the team’s nineteen, and the offense has scored over 5.5 goals per game this season. Kale Dolinski leads the ACHA in points with 37 with 11 goals and 26 assists, showing how much scoring is on the roster. Twenty-two Sun Devils have scored a goal this season, showing the depth in this roster. Even with these impressive statistics, Arizona State has put up some less than stellar performances this year. After two good wins over Delaware, the team barely scraped by DII Northern Arizona and was outplayed for most of the contest. The inconsistency in the team’s play will most likely stop this team from running the table, in addition to difficult contests that are on the schedule the rest of the way. The Sun Devils still have three games against a one-loss Liberty team, one against fifth-ranked Central Oklahoma, two against an Oklahoma team that was a minute from defeating ASU in Norman, and six games against archrival Arizona. The team’s very impressive win over defending champions Minot State should set the tone for a run to a championship. Arizona State’s goal should be to win a national title, not to win every game.
Do I think Arizona State has the talent to go undefeated? Yes. Do I think the Sun Devils are the most talented team in the country? Yes. Do I think ASU should be ranked number 1 in the country? Yes. Do I think they will go undefeated? No. The Sun Devils are 19-0 with 17 games left on the schedule. They play in Tucson against the archrival Wildcats who worked their way into the top 10 earlier this year. They host both Oklahoma and Central Oklahoma who both played the Sun Devils very tough when they hosted ASU earlier this season. The Sun Devils have a problem getting up for some big games and also have played down to the level of competition. This year we’ve seen some lackluster effort and weaker performances against far inferior teams. It took overtime to beat Delaware and ASU had close scares against both Colorado and NAU. This type of play hasn’t hurt the Sun Devils in the standings yet this season, but it could down the line. Finally, The number one goal for this Sun Devils team is not to go undefeated. The number one goal is to win a National Title and to do it by whatever means necessary. The Sun Devils will not risk a National Title for the hopes of winning any one regular season game, even if It means going undefeated.
It’s no understatement that ASU’s victory over Minot State brought the team a step closer to bringing the Murdoch Cup back to Tempe. Now that they continue to have a spotless record at 19-0-0, the best start the program has seen, it’s going to be an even steeper uphill battle to keep the win streak alive. With teams like Iowa State and Liberty University who currently lead in their conferences, the Sun Devils need to have a hot start right at the buzzer to make sure they don’t end at the wrong end of the scoreboard. The outstanding performances by both veterans and new recruits have proven how deep the Sun Devils are in offensive firepower. 5 rookies have cracked double digits in overall points with Sean Murphy and Chris Burkemper leading the pack. On the goaltending side, whoever coach Powers calls on, opponents will face a sturdy wall between the pipes from freshman Robert Levin or senior Joe D’Elia. With this all said, a perfect record is a possibility but not a top priority. In the end if it came down to choosing between an undefeated season or claiming a national championship title, no player would hesitate to choose the latter.
Arizona State proved this past weekend that they belong on top of the rankings of the ACHA. The game against Minot State was everything we hoped for and then some. However, the Sun Devils also proved that they are a focused group with back-to-back wins over a tough Williston State team. ASU avoided the “hangover” game friday with an assertive 4-0 shutout, and stuck out a 3-2 victory in overtime Saturday. One can start making the assumption that ASU could run the table and finish the regular season undefeated. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that they have the ability to do so, I just don’t believe it’s worth the hype. Sure, an undefeated record is a nice plaque on the wall, but everyone following this team knows that it’s a ring the players and coaches want. Nothing else. A team could get caught up in the quest for the perfect record and find itself losing in the playoffs – where that record doesn’t matter anymore. I think the biggest compliment you can give to this team is saying that they have the talent (and coaching) to win a national title, undefeated season or not. These guys are hitting their stride, they’ve made it through one of the toughest stretches on their schedule unscathed, and they are nearly 100% healthy. I believe big things are on the horizon for ASU hockey, but an undefeated season would not be the biggest one.