ASU hockey hosting blue blood Denver for first time
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
Of Arizona State hockey’s 13 remaining opponents, none are more high profile than eight-time NCAA champion Denver University.
The Pioneers (9-3-2) are No. 4 nationally in the polls and the Pairwise rankings that determine qualifiers for the 16-team NCAA Championships.
“They’re a blue blood in every way,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “It’s exciting to be able to host such a great program and for our fans to go watch us play such a good program.”
Denver has made 12 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Frozen Four in three of the last four years and winning its eighth title in 2017. But the Pioneers currently are sixth in the NCHC with a 1-3-2-1 record so not everything is right for DU going into its second ever series vs. ASU. The Pioneers dominated two home games vs. the Sun Devils in 2016-17.
The Sun Devils are 7-4-1, coming off a 1-0-1 home weekend vs. Vermont, and ranked No. 20 in the USHCO poll (No. 16 Pairwise). Games against Denver will be played at Oceanside Ice Arena on Friday then at Gila River Arena on Saturday for a Pac-12 Network telecast.
Powers believes his team will be motivated to match an elite opponent similar to early November when ASU swept Quinnipiac, then ranked No. 9.
“We’ve now built our program to the point where not every weekend we’re considered the underdog,” he said. “I think our guys get excited maybe when the perception is we are the underdogs just like we were against Quinnipiac and we will be this weekend. I think they’re going to have a lot in the tank on Friday.”
ASU captain Tyler Busch said of Denver, “They’re really skilled and they feed off turnovers and they’re really good off the rush. We’ve got to make sure we manage the puck well and limit our turnovers especially in the neutral zone. Then focus on having good back pressure and forcing them to make plays under pressure.”
From last week until the end of the regular season, ASU plays 13 consecutive weekends in its pursuit of a second straight postseason appearance. In addition to Denver, other upcoming opponents include No. 5-ranked Clarkson, No. 12 Harvard, No. 18 Nebraska Omaha, No. 19 Wisconsin and Michigan Tech. Of those, only the Michigan Tech series is at home.
Gruber return helps replace Jenuwine
Senior forward Brett Gruber returning from injury is helping ASU to overcome the loss of freshman Logan Jenuwine, dismissed for a team rules violation.
Gruber is centering the second line with PJ Marrocco and Austin Lemieux.
“He’s been a top six guy his whole career and plays down the middle and wins draws,” Powers said. “He was really good last weekend.
“Chemistry-wise, it’s next man up (without Jenuwine). We pride ourselves on that mentality. We believe in everybody in that room, that when guys get the opportunity they’ll perform and we’ll be successful.”
Gruber had an assist on ASU’s first goal in game 2 vs. Vermont for his first point of the season in seven games.
Powers did not elaborate on the dismissal of Jenuwine and Carson Briere, who was redshirting. The violations occurred during ASU’s two weeks off between series vs. Alaska and Vermont.
“The only comment I’ll have is we wish both all the best moving forward,” Powers said.
Sanchez leads in scoring
Junior forward James Sanchez leads ASU in scoring with 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists), four more than Johnny Walker and Josh Maniscalco. He is tied for 17th nationally in points.
Sanchez, a 6-2 junior, played two years at Michigan before leaving for a season in the USHL with Dubuque, where he had 40 points and 45 games including 16 goals.
He scored both goals, on power plays, in a 2-1 win over Vermont before being shut out in game 2, ending a seven-game scoring streak with three goals and nine assists.
Sanchez said he was looking for a “fresh start” in leaving Michigan. “It’s not the most ideal path, but it was a blessing in disguise. Everyone has a blueprint and that was mine. Everything happens for a reason. I’m happy to be here now.”
At Dubuque in 2018-19, Sanchez was a teammate with now fellow Sun Devils Willie Knierim and Jacob Semik. Maniscalco played for Dubuque in 2017-18.
Returning to college is “time to develop, get bigger and stronger, grow as a player,” said Sanchez, who scored two goals against ASU when he was at Michigan in 2017-18. “Then obviously the classroom is huge because getting a degree is very important too.
“ASU is growing as a program. Be the tradition is not joke, that’s a serious thing. I definitely want to jump on board with all these guys. They made the tournament and they’re showing they’re not messing around. It seemed like a no-brainer, and everyone is going to start seeing that and want to come here.”
Storm gray jersey debut
ASU will be debuting its Storm gray jersey, featuring a state flag display on the sleeve, this weekend.
As part of its contract with Adidas, the hockey team has started each season in a new jersey then unveiled another option around midseason. The Sun Devils now have white, maroon, black, gold and gray jerseys plus one created for their summer trip to China.
“They’re pretty sick,” Sanchez said.
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