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Sun Devils battle defending champs

(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)

Thursday night at Oceanside Arena will showcase a showdown between the No. 2 Sun Devils (16-0-0) and the No. 1 defending ACHA champions Minot State (9-0-0 ACHA).

Despite the fact that ASU has held the top ranked spot for the past two weeks,
the Beavers are back on top of the polls, setting up a battle for the No. 1 spot in next week’s poll.

It’s a game that both Arizona State and Minot State hockey players circled on their calendars.

“To us it’s just another game, but it’s one we had circled on our calendars for a long time,” freshman forward Ryan Ostertag said. “It’s the most important game of the year… especially since we play them only once this whole season.”

The Beavers make the trip to Tempe with the bitter taste of losing still lingering in their mouths. Their in-state rivals Williston State College handed them their first home loss since October 29th 2011 and snapped a 31-consecutive game win streak. Since Williston is not an ACHA team, the ‘L’ doesn’t put a dent in Minot’s record.

“I think we’re going to be a pissed off hockey team,” Minot State coach Wade Regier said in an interview with the “We’re going to be a team that’s really fired up. The fact that we did lose was probably a good thing. We hate to say things like that, but for us we always felt we were high and mighty. We’re going to come out extremely hungry for two reasons: One is to avenge last night’s loss and the second to knock of the No. 1 team, which we did last year.”

Just because the spots are switched now, doesn’t mean that Minot State is going to going to withhold any aggression.

“I think coming from that loss they’re going to be hungrier than ever because both of us are teams that don’t like to lose,” Ostertag said. “So I think they are going to react to that [loss] as positively as they can. We have to be ready for a really big game.”

When the two teams collided last season, Minot State claimed the victory in all 3 meetings. In each of those match-ups, however, key players were missing from the ASU bench. This year, the Beavers see a Sun Devil lineup at full strength.

“Minot’s definitely going to be the best team we’ve played,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “If our guys show up and they want to outwork whoever they play, they’re going to win. Tomorrow, we should want to work incredibly hard. They’re the national champs, they’re ranked No. 1 – they have what we want.”

“We’ve just got to come out with all of our guns firing, work hard and hope for the best end result,” Ostertag said.

It’s no question that the Maroon and Gold is loaded with offensive firepower. Senior forward Kale Dolinski, who was a Minot State Beaver his freshman year, still claims the top spot on the ACHA leaderboard in overall points (35) and assists (24).
Fellow senior forwards Brian McGinty (26 pts.), Colin Hekle (20 pts.) and Liam Norris (20 pts.) also crack the top 25 in overall points.

On opposite ends of the ice, two of the best goaltenders in the league will go head-to-head, with freshman Robert Levin in net for ASU and senior Wyatt Waselenchuk between the pipes for Minot State.

Waselenchuk boasts 1.33 goals against average mark and a .96 save percentage – second in the ACHA to Levin.

“There’s a lot of good goalies in this league and we faced one last weekend,” Ostertag said, referring to Colorado goalie Alex Palumbo. “Our kind of mentality is to keep shooting the puck. If we keep shooting, they’re bound to go in sometime. A goalie can only stand on his head for so long.”

The Williston State Tetons are next in line to take on the Sun Devils in a two-game series Friday and Saturday night. Despite being a non-ACHA club, the Tetons shouldn’t be taken lightly, as they’ve come away with W’s against Colorado State and Minot State.

“[Williston] is going to come in with a lot of confidence … win or loss [against Minot] my goal immediately in the locker room is to refocus our guys, ” Powers said.

The puck drops at 8:00 pm on Thursday and 7:30 on Friday and Saturday at Oceanside Arena.

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