The Minot State University men's club hockey team isn't easing its way into the 2013 portion of its schedule after a nearly four-week break.
The fourth-ranked Beavers (13-4) face their toughest test of the season as they travel to Tempe, Ariz., to battle top-ranked Arizona State University tonight at 8:30 p.m. Mountain time.
Despite the long layoff, MSU coach Wade Regier said the break was needed.
MSU junior forward Cam McGeough skates after a loose puck as Williston State College’s Jacob Radermacher defends during a game in December.
"Christmas came at the right time," Regier said. "We needed to get that break. Having a good solid three weeks off and now a week of practice should have us ready to go. Especially with the task at hand, these guys are going to be extremely motivated and pumped."
One player in particular that needed the layoff was freshman forward Brody Haygarth, who suffered a concussion in the Beavers' last game against Williston State College on Dec. 6. Regier said Haygarth will be in the lineup tonight.
The Sun Devils (21-3) have been the nation's top team for the past six weeks and spent the weekend in British Columbia as part of the Great Northwest Showcase. ASU split its two games, losing to the University of British Columbia before defeating Simon Fraser University. The Sun Devils are 19-1 against ACHA teams and 2-2 against non-ACHA members, including a 3-1 victory at NCAA Division I Penn State.
"They're going to be quick, they're going to be fast and they're going to be structured," senior defenseman Nigel Dube said. "We know we're going to have to bring our best game."
Dube and the MSU defense have their hands full trying to contain sophomore forward Kale Dolinski (23 goals, 14 assists) and junior forward Colin Hekle (17 g, 19 a). Dolinski's 23 goals are seventh-most among ACHA Division I players and freshman forward Stephen Collins ranks tied for eighth with 20 goals.
"Their forwards are unbelievable," Regier said. "They're a forward-heavy team that generates a lot of scoring. Their top two lines are as good as anybody."
ASU averages 5.95 goals per game and has scored 10-plus goals four times this season. The Beavers' offense is nearly as explosive, averaging 4.71 goals per contest. Even though both teams have the ability to score, Regier believes tonight's game could be low scoring.
"I think their goaltending is pretty solid," Regier said. "If we play our system, it's going to be a grudge match. For us, we don't want to get into a shootout with them because of the talent they have up front. It could be one of those chess matches."
D'Elia Joseph is expected to start in net for the Sun Devils. Joseph is 14-1 with a 2.05 goals against average and a 0.92 save percentage.
Regier said junior goaltender Wyatt Waselenchuk will get the start for the Beavers. Waselenchuk sports a 7-2 record with a 1.78 goals against average and a .93 save percentage.
"We've preached all year defense first and take care of the defensive zone and it's going to be the same thing going into this game," Dube said.
Playing against ranked opponents is nothing new to the Beavers. MSU is 7-3 against the top 25, including victories against Ohio (No. 5), Liberty (No. 10), Oakland (No. 12), Iowa State (No. 13) and Stony Brook (No. 15).
"We're not intimidated," said MSU sophomore forward Logan Herauf, who is tied for the team lead in scoring with 23 points (10 g, 16 a) in 16 games. "We don't go into games like that. We've played a lot of ranked teams and done well against them and we're excited to play the top-ranked team."
Regier said discipline will play a big part in tonight's outcome as the Sun Devils' power-play unit is one of the best in the league.
"We don't want to be getting ourselves in trouble," Regier said. "As of late we've been very disciplined. (ASU's) power play is unbelievable. They have players that are just unbelievable. On power-play opportunities, if you give them chances they will make you pay."
Said Dube: "They have a quick power play and we know what they're capable of. It's going to be big to stay out of the box and to use our size because they're a smaller team. Our size is going to be a big advantage."
The Sun Devils have scored 33 power-play goals this season with Collins and Hekle leading ASU with seven each.
Tonight's matchup is the first of three meetings between the teams. The Beavers host the Sun Devils on Feb. 16-17 to close out the regular season.
"A win against (ASU) would be massive for our team, not only in the rankings, but we've already been sending a bit of a message to the league about what we can do and this would be another one," Herauf said.
The Beavers end their three-game Arizona trip with two games against 18th-ranked University of Arizona Friday and Saturday.