After splitting a series at Boston University last week, No. 16 ASU hockey looks to further solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament against RIT.
No. 16 Arizona State looks to add to their résumé this weekend on their road trip to the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Although the Sun Devils (17-10-1) have a strong record to date, they have struggled on Friday games. So far, they have posted a 7-7 record on the final weekday.
“I look at us being that much better on Saturdays as a positive thing,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said. “Our guys bounce back from losses, they bounce back from adversity, we make good adjustments – it’s a good thing.”
For RIT (12-9-3), this weekend will most likely feature their toughest remaining opponent in the surprising Sun Devils, as none of the five teams left on the Tigers’ schedule are currently ranked.
The Tigers may not be in the same tier as Arizona State’s most recent opponents – Boston College, Cornell and Boston University. However, Powers hinted that RIT might be one of their more underrated foes.
“They’re a smaller school that prides themselves on being one that continuously can compete and beat higher-ranked programs,” Powers said.
The danger of RIT lies within their depth. Heading into the weekend series, the Tigers have eight players with at least 5 goals on the season.
Senior forwards Abbott Girduckis, Erik Brown and Gabe Valenzuela have paced the offense. While Girduckis boasts a team-leading 27 points, Brown and Valenzuela lead the Tigers in goals with 12 and 10, respectively.
However, Arizona State will come prepared with one of the nation’s premier offensive force, Johnny Walker. The sophomore forward has a healthy lead in the nationwide goals leaderboard with 21 tallies on the year.
“When I’m scoring and it’s helping contribute to a win, then that’s enough for me,” Walker said. “Even if we’re winning and I don’t score, it’s fine…. Everyone contributes something on this team, and that’s my role.”
As Walker mentioned, the team can win without relying on his goal-scoring ability. Other key contributors have been Brinson Pasichnuk and Anthony Croston.
Pasichnuk, a junior defenseman, enters the weekend with nine goals and 12 assists on the season. His consistency has been key for the Sun Devils, as his longest scoreless drought was a three-game stretch in the beginning of the season.
Croston comes into the series with RIT carrying a bit of momentum from Boston University. His two-point weekend may have seemed unspectacular, but that matched his point total from the seven games leading up to it.
One potentially major factor heading into this weekend is the second half schedule of each team.
RIT has not had the luxury of a bye week since late December, and they will not have one for the remainder of their season.
Meanwhile, Arizona State had a week off before their trip to Boston University. The Sun Devils are scheduled for another bye week after coming back from RIT.
“Having a bye week is always nice, especially this late in the season,” Pasichnuk said. “I mean, it’s been six or seven months of us coming to the rink every single day – practicing, playing. Your bodies get tired, so it’s nice to have a little off weekend [to] rest up.”
The first game of what could be a hard-fought series is scheduled for Friday night in Rochester, N.Y. at 5:05 p.m. MT. The puck is scheduled to drop in the second game Saturday at 5:05 p.m. MST as well.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.