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Arizona hockey hosts ASU this weekend with chance to claim Cactus Cup

The Wildcats and Sun Devils face off in games 3 and 4 of the rivalry series this weekend

Photo by: Steve Wojcik (stevewojcikphotography.com)

After nearly a month on the road, the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats hockey team will return home this Friday and Saturday, hosting the No. 24 Arizona State Sun Devils at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Wildcats currently hold a 2-0 lead over the Sun Devils in a best-of-seven series. A weekend sweep over their archrival will allow the ‘Cats to claim the Cactus Cup – the hockey version of the Territorial Cup – for the 2017-2018 season.

Matchup overview

This season, Arizona has been far and away the better team. The ‘Cats are currently 13-6-0 with losses to No. 6 Central Oklahoma, No. 8 Colorado and No. 19 Missouri State. Arizona has also been a top-20 team all season long, including ACHA D1 preseason rankings. As a team, the Wildcats are the ACHA’s fourth best team on offense, with 92 goals-for on the season.

Arizona State, meanwhile, has lagged behind this season falling from No. 11 in the ACHA D1 preseason rankings to now 24, with a winning percentage just barely above .500 (9-15-0). The Sun Devils have also posted the league’s fifth worst scoring defense, allowing 98 goals this season.

Players to watch

Arizona’s player to watch is Anthony Cusanelli. The 6-foot-1 forward from New Jersey currently leads the team in scoring with 22 goals and 10 assists (32 total points).

The ‘Cats will also most likely turn to goaltenders Austin Wilson and Anthony Ciurro this weekend. In 20 games, The two net-minders combine for a 3.185 goals-against-average and a 0.904 save percentage.

The Sun Devils, meanwhile, hope see a lot of action from their trio of top scorers: Jake Savona (22 pts), Austin Ehrlich (22 pts), and Dylan Ostertag (21 pts).

Expect goaltender Jack Burkel to protect ASU’s crease for at least one of the game this weekend. In 19 games, Burkel has a 3.95 goals-against average and a 0.880 save percentage.

What to expect this weekend

Not too often do the ‘Cats have the perfect opportunity to put away the Sun Devils — and win the series outright — at this point in the season. But that doesn't dismiss that ASU knows what they have to lose this weekend.

Cactus Cup games are always a war-zone. In their last match up in October, the two teams combined for about 47 minutes in the penalty box. Plus, scoring is also high when these two teams meet. In the first two games of the series, they combined for 22 goals.

Prediction

Friday, Dec 1 — Game 3 of the series: Arizona wins 5-2

Saturday, Dec 2 — Game 4 of the series: Arizona wins 6-5 (OT)

I believe Arizona will claim the Cactus Cup this weekend. This has just been arguably the best Wildcat hockey team I’ve seen in Tucson. But I don’t believe it will come too easily. The Sun Devils will let Game 3 slip by them before regrouping and fighting with an “everything is on the line” attitude on Saturday — similar to that of Arizona’s final push against ASU last season. But ultimately, I think Arizona’s high scoring offense will be just a little too much for the Sun Devils in the end, winning Game 4 in overtime to win the Cactus Cup.

The puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. MST on both Friday and Saturday. The games can be live streamed on UA Hockey’s YouTube page.

These are the Wildcats’ last games of 2017. They will not return to the ice until Jan. 5, when they host Grand Canyon University.

Arizona will also have to face the Sun Devils three more times this season — one away followed by two at the TCC to end the regular season.


Follow Rob Leano on Twitter @RobLeano1