Sun Devils trek north for battle with No. 3 Minnesota State
Last weekend didn’t go quite as planned for Arizona State (1-1) as the team split its season-opening series after suffering a shocking upset at the hands of Mercyhurst on Saturday. But an even tougher test looms as Sun Devil Hockey takes its first road trip of the season up to the city of Mankato to challenge the No. 3 Minnesota State Mavericks.
This is the first time in the Sun Devils’ young history that they will play the Mavericks (0-0) in their barn at the Mankato Civic Center.
“It’s going to be a hostile environment; they get good crowds,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said. “It’s a great venue and they have a great program. Our guys are going to have to be dialed. We’re going to have to play at our very best to have a chance at winning on Friday.”
ASU started the 2019-20 in the USCHO rankings at No. 20 but fell out because of last Saturday’s loss. Friday’s game at Mankato will be the start of the season for No. 3 Minnesota State.
The two teams played last year for the first time in the 2018 Desert Hockey Classic, meeting in the consolation game. The game went down in the books as a 2-2 tie, however, ASU prevailed in a shootout with heroics from defenseman Max Balinson.
But this year’s match-up will be a completely different animal. The Mavericks return 20 skaters and over 90 percent of their scoring from last year while being backed by a stout sophomore goaltender.
“They’re just a really, really good team,” Powers said. “They’re one of the top teams in the country, they always are. And this year might be one of the strongest teams they’ve even ever had, they’re that good.”
Last season, the Mavericks finished 32-8-2 and won their conference tournament in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. However, the regular season powerhouse program was eliminated in the first round by Providence, 6-3.
“Great coach, great program, we’re excited to go up and get some really good experience up there.”
No. 3 Minnesota State has a seasoned bench boss at the helm in Mike Hastings. He’s 183-80-21 all-time in his seven seasons since taking over as head coach in 2013.
Hastings was the head coach for Team USA in last year’s International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championships in Canada.
Senior forwards Marc Michaelis, Parker Tuomie and Charlie Gerard leads a high-powered offense for No. 3 Minnesota State. The three college veterans combined for 112 points last season.
Junior defenseman Connor Mackey, who hasn’t missed a game in his MSU career is a player to look out for on the blue line.
The expected starter in net for Mankato is sophomore goaltender Dryden McKay, who won 24 games as a true freshman for the Mavericks last year. He finished his stellar first season with a 1.27 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
ASU sophomore forward Demetrios Koumontzis will make his return to the state where he was a 2018 Mr. Hockey finalist in high school. He hopes the outcome is different this time around after the Sun Devils were swept by the Golden Gophers when they traveled up to Minnesota at the end of last season.
“It’ll be good just like last year, but hopefully the outcome’s a little bit better this time,” Koumontzis said. “It will be a good experience but we gotta go there and get a couple wins for sure.”
“We gotta go in and have that underdog mentality. I think that’s the only way we’re going to get a win there.”
Koumontzis is coming off a three-point weekend as a part of the first line against Mercyhurst. His line with junior transfer James Sanchez and Johnny Walker ignited to combine for 10 points in last Sunday’s bounce-back win.
“We weren’t together at first, then we got to put together the third game in China, and we kind of took off there,” Koumontzis said. “And ever since, we’ve been working well together. It’s two really good players that I’m surrounded by, so it’s a lot easier to do a lot of good things with them. We mix so well, and I think that’s why we get the job done.”
Powers confirmed that sophomore goalie Evan DeBrouwer will get the start in net for the Sun Devils on Friday. He had 20 saves in his first collegiate start in ASU’s 3-2 loss last Saturday.
Puck drop is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. MT on Friday, and Saturday’s game is slated to start at 4:07 p.m. MT. Both games can be heard online through KTOE 1420 AM in Mankato or streamed on Flohockey.tv with a paid subscription.