Wildcat hockey can kill two birds with one stone this week: end its 28-game winless streak against its archrival and earn a trip to nationals.
No. 18 Arizona travels to Tempe, Ariz., to face No. 2 ASU for a two-game series Friday and Saturday night.
“We want to send a message this weekend that we’re capable of beating anyone,” head coach Sean Hogan said.
Thanks to its seven wins over top 11 teams and fourth most difficult schedule in the country, Hogan thinks Arizona is one win away from clinching a spot in the tournament.
This weekend also gives the Wildcats the chance to end the streak.
“We’re playing for both,” said junior forward Andrew Murmes. “We definitely want to make it to nationals. We think we could make a huge splash at nationals, surprise some teams, and to beat ASU and then to clinch a berth in the same exact night … we’re definitely going to have fun.”
The winless streak has progressed quickly over time, with a 0-4-0 record so far this season, a 0-7-1 record against ASU last year, a 0-7-1 mark in 2010-11 and a 0-8-0 record in 2009-10.
Hogan said Arizona is in rebuilding mode, while ASU is the best it’s ever been.
“Going through that process is frustrating, but in our minds I know for a fact that we match up well with them,” Hogan said. “We can beat those guys.”
Arizona’s last win over the Sun Devils was Feb. 21, 2009, a 4-3 shootout win to cap a series sweep. That season, 2008-09, was the last time Arizona won the season series, 4-2.
ASU (28-6-0) has nine players with over 20 points this year, while the Wildcats only have three.
Junior forward Colin Hekle, with 53 points, and sophomore forward Kale Dolinski, with 47 points, lead the Sun Devils in scoring.
ASU junior goalie Joseph D’Elia (20-4) has a 2.46 GAA and a .910 save percentage and leads the nation in wins.
Hogan said if the Wildcats don’t give up a fury of goals, which cost them four wins against top-10 teams, they can spring an upset.
“We get caught up in some things that we don’t need to get caught up in, and if we stay out of that, we got a really good shot at beating them,” Hogan said. “We’re playing well right now — the best hockey we’ve played all year.”
Though Arizona owns the overall series advantage at 130-60-8 and the longest win streak (62 games), no current Wildcat or Sun Devil has experienced an Arizona win over ASU.
Arizona hasn’t beaten Arizona State on the road since Jan. 31, 2009, when it won 4-0.
After ASU lost at home to Oklahoma 6-3 and No. 16 Central Oklahoma 4-2, it dropped out of the top spot in the rankings, which it had held for eight weeks.
Hogan said the losses were because they were “devastated by injuries,” missing four or five of their leading scorers, but that both teams are at full strength now.
The Sun Devils rebounded last weekend, beating No. 17 Rhode Island in two games by a combined score of 7-0.
The Wildcats are coming off splits with then-No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 10 Liberty on the road. Arizon’s last appearance in the postseason tournament was 2005-06.
Murmes guaranteed good fortune for the Wildcats, saying Arizona is “definitely getting the victory.”
“Right now I feel like, actually, our team chemistry’s the best it’s ever been,” Murmes said. “We played four awesome games in a row against Oklahoma and Liberty. I felt like we definitely should have had two in Liberty.”
So far this year, the Wildcats have been blown out by the Sun Devils on Fridays, losing 11-3 in Tempe and 7-1 in Tucson. Arizona has fared better on Saturdays against ASU though, just losing 4-1 on the road and 3-1 at home.