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Know Your Enemy: No. 6 Penn State Hockey vs. Arizona State

No. 6 Penn State men’s hockey (5-0-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten) will host Arizona State for a non-conference series this weekend.

The two youngest programs in college hockey will clash for the third consecutive season, but this year’s Sun Devil roster isn’t the punching bag it was for its first three years of Division I play.

The General

Arizona State (6-2-0) is much improved in its fourth season competing at the Division I level. The Sun Devils are off to a hot start and received votes in the USCHO poll for the first time in program history this week following a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.

Then-No. 1 Ohio State handed the team its only two losses of the year in Tempe, but Arizona State only lost by a combined 6-2 over that weekend series.

The Sun Devils won only 21 games in their first three seasons of Division I hockey, but seem to be turning a corner thanks to a deadly attack and stout defense.

Arizona State’s leader up front is Johnny Walker. The sophomore led the team in goals with 17 last season and has stayed hot with eight goals in as many games so far this season. Walker leads all of college hockey in goals and is tied with Bowling Green’s Max Johnson for the national lead in points (13).

Walker scored four goals in the Sun Devils’ rout of Nebraska-Omaha last week to take the national lead in goals scored. He’s been flanked by juniors Tyler Busch and Brett Gruber, who have combined for 14 points this year, on the team’s top forward line.

Calgary Flames prospect Demetrios Koumontzis is another dangerous forward — he’s posted a goal and six assists as the Sun Devils’ second line center this year.

Arizona State has also kept the puck out of the net, mostly thanks to goaltender Joey Daccord. Daccord was a seventh-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2015 NHL Draft, and his six wins lead the NCAA so far this season. His 1.51 goals-against average and .949 save percentage both rank among the top ten in college hockey.

Zeroing In

Arizona State’s success this season has come against Alaska-Fairbanks, Nebraska-Omaha, and Alabama-Huntsville, but discrediting a team for beating weaker opposition isn’t totally fair — you can only beat whichever teams are put in front of you.

Although the Sun Devils have had an excellent start to the season, Penn State won’t face anything new when they stroll into Pegula Ice Arena. Guy Gadowsky’s team was successful against one of college hockey’s elite goaltenders — Clarkson’s Jake Kielly — but Daccord will present it with another tough test.

Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner — two of the top scorers in the NCAA last season — only combined one assist for Princeton against Penn State last Friday, so shutting down a player like Johnny Walker shouldn’t be a problem for the Nittany Lions’ defensive unit.

Last Meeting

Penn State traveled to the desert and swept Arizona State last season. The Nittany Lions won 7-0 in the first game of the series and followed that up with a 4-2 victory a day later. Evan Barratt scored his first two NCAA goals in the series-opening shutout.

Predictions

Johnny Walker is clearly an excellent player, but I don’t think Penn State’s defense will have any issues bottling up the Sun Devils’ top line. I predict Guy Gadowsky’s team will enter its series against Robert Morris still unbeaten after 4-1 and 6-2 victories at Pegula Ice Arena.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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