UA hockey travels to face No. 1 ASU

No. 18 Arizona (2-0-1) faces a stiff test against bitter rival No. 1 ASU (6-0-0) at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, Ariz., for a two-game series this weekend.

“ASU is a very, very skilled team who will make you pay quickly if you give them the time and space to do so,” UA hockey head coach Chad Berman said. “They are very talented all over their roster with a tremendous amount of depth. We have to find a way to slow them down, especially through the neutral zone; this way, we are not giving them the time and space that makes them so dangerous. It’s going to take ‘all hands on deck,’ but we are excited for the challenge.”

Last season, Arizona hockey had a 2-1 victory at ASU, ending a 37-game winless streak against the Sun Devils. It was the first time the Wildcats beat the Sun Devils on the ice since Feb. 21, 2009. Even sweeter for Arizona, the win came on ASU’s senior night.

However, leading scorers from the recent era of ASU hockey Colin Hekle, Kale Dolinski, Brian McGinty and Danny McAuliffe are now gone. Hopping in to help the forward position that was hurt by graduation, ASU hockey head coach Greg Powers recruited Connor Mailey, Mak Barden and Jared Morris. Not to mention the return of 6-foot, 180-pound Sun Devil Ryan Ostertag.

“The games against ASU are always a battle, and this weekend will be no different,” UA hockey captain Shane Gleason said. “We have limited practice again leading up to the games, but those kind of challenges have become routine for us, and now we’re just rolling with the punches. When the puck drops this weekend, I know our guys will be ready.”

So far this season, the Wildcats have proved to be a threat in the net, and each line plays with fluid chemistry.

UA freshman Alex Nespor seems to be a fan favorite already, as he scored four goals in the season opener against NAU. UA hockey assistant captain Alex O’dea is having a standout season already with two goals and two assists. Wildcat Goalie Garrett Patrick has a 90.3 save percentage this season, and he blocked four goals in a shoot-out last week against Liberty to win 6-5.

“For our team to be successful, we need to commit to our defensive zone play and make simple decisions,” UA hockey forward Dylan Carter said.

Gleason is out with a concussion, and the recovery time is still undetermined. On Saturday night at Liberty University, Gleason was hit from behind, slamming his head into the glass, and was knocked out for over a minute.

Although Berman is new to Tucson, he already understands the upstate rivalry against ASU.

The Sun Devils are the reigning ACHA D1 National Champions, and they beat Robert Morris University 3-1 to win the program’s first national championship last season. Berman was a coach at Robert Morris during this time.

“The last time I saw this team, they were throwing their gloves in the air while celebrating a National Championship,” Berman said. “That image is cemented in my brain, and it still stings to this day. I intend to return the gesture as soon as possible.”

The puck drops Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on cronkitesports.com/live-broadcasts/.

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