Sun Devils men’s hockey coach Greg Powers nearly got the complete effort that he was looking for from his team.
After a week’s worth of practice in which he cajoled his players to funnel bodies and pucks to the net in an effort to solve their scoring woes, ASU broke out with a season-high five goals in a 5-3 win against Colorado College at Mullett Arena on Friday.
The power play clicked for a goal on four chances, even if it was from the second unit and player of the game Demetrios Koumontzis. The Devils won a majority of their faceoffs, TJ Semptimphelter (29 saves) was superb in goal again, and ASU even got a goal from its defense when Jack Judson closed out the scoring with an Erik Karlsson-esque flip of the puck over the entire defense and into an empty net.
Had it not been for some poor puck management at the offensive blue line, and Robert Mastrosimone’s ill-advised five-minute major penalty midway through the second period, ASU would have won this game in a rout. Those two factors, in reverse order, allowed CC to claw back within 4-3 after thorough Devil domination built a 4-1 lead on a pair of goals from Koumontzis, a rocket from Mastrosimone, and freshman Ryan Alexander’s first NCAA goal, which apparently created a frantic search after the game.
“They wanted a picture after the game and they’re like, ‘Oh, where’s your puck?'” Alexander said. “I don’t know, so I’m kind of running around asking people and they’re like, ‘No, the next time you’ll see it is senior year.’ I guess it’s going in a frame. If it wasn’t going in the frame, I would have just rubbed it on my stick every game, but I guess that’s not happening.”
While the Sun Devils staff was taking care of Alexander’s milestone puck, the Sun Devils were taking care of Powers’ day-two speech. Coaches always hope for something that they can harp on after a win to keep their team focused on getting the next one. ASU’s second-period lapse was the tonic that Powers needed, but there is another more obvious one that he will likely pin up in the room today.
ASU has been very good in the opening game of each of its four series this season. It would have beaten Minnesota Duluth on the road had it not been for a late and controversial disallowed goal. It won the first game at Bemidji State the next weekend, it beat Colgate in the first game at Mullett, and it beat CC on Friday.
The back end of those series has been another story. ASU is 0-3 in those games as it prepares from another game against CC on Saturday. It lost those three games by a combined score of 13-5, including a stunning 4-0 loss to underwhelming Colgate.
“The message was: Remember the pain; remember how much it hurt losing in this building last Saturday and use the fear as a good thing,” Powers said after Friday’s game. “It can be a great motivator. Let’s use that fear to motivate us so we don’t feel that tomorrow and we actually can enjoy our Saturday night.
“We have to learn from the previous three Saturdays and find a way to finish off a sweep.”
Powers isn’t seeing one common denominator in the Devils’ back-end blues.
“It’s just hard to sweep in college hockey,” he said. “You look across the board every weekend, it’s so hard to do. It’s the nature of what we do. When you play a team back-to-back nights, nobody wants to come in on the road and go home with two losses. It’s just staying intense and focused and playing the right way. We got away from our game tonight and I think that that will keep their attention for tomorrow. It better.”
NCAA Tournament bids are not built off of series splits. While it’s fine to split series on the road, the Sun Devils have to establish the type of dominance in their new building that they had at Oceanside Ice Arena.
“Everyone’s got to play their part to help us win games and I know I can help do a lot of work there,” said Koumontzis, whose speed was a problem for the Tigers all night and helped generate a half dozen scoring chances. “I just came in tonight, focusing on doing whatever I can to play my game, and I think it showed a little bit more tonight.
“I think I can use that [speed] to my advantage and I need to do it consistently so [Saturday] night will be a good test to see if I can continue that.”
The same goes for all of the Devils. Powers talked after the game about his team’s search for its identity. It’s not surprising that the team is still trying to establish that identity when it has 13 new faces and one of the youngest teams it has fielded.
The PairWise rankings don’t care about any of that, however. ASU sits 35th in that all-important list that goes a long way toward determining the NCAA field of 16. The Sun Devils need a sweep of CC to make up for the home loss to Colgate a week ago, and they’ll need a few more sweeps to create some daylight between themselves and the .500 mark.
After this series, the Sun Devils head to Las Vegas to face No. 7 North Dakota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game at T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 29. After that, they open a six-game homestand against Alaska Anchorage, Clarkson and No. 1 ranked Minnesota. There are challenges aplenty ahead, but the road to Tampa and the Frozen Four isn’t paved with cupcakes.
Top photo of Demetrios Koumontzis and Dylan Jackson courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics