The design of the play was simple. The reward for proper execution was massive.

About halfway through 3-on-3 overtime against the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday at Mullett Arena, ASU coach Greg Powers called a timeout. He wanted Josh Doan to take the faceoff, but he wanted his sophomore captain to do more than just win that draw.

“Center wins it forward and when he does, the winger goes,” Powers explained. “Center sends it, breakaway.”

Doan won the draw to the weak side and Robert Mastrosimone went, getting in alone to score the game-winner and give ASU a 6-5 win that it needed in the worst way.

“Another benchmark win for us,” said Powers, who apologized for arriving late for his media session due to a prolonged locker room celebration. “Huge to do it at home in front of our fans. They were incredible tonight.”

ASU (8-7) squandered the last benchmark win that it posted against North Dakota in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game on Oct. 29 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That win came in the midst of a five-game winning streak; a streak in which ASU looked like it had found itself after some early-season struggles on the road.

Then came a two-game series loss at Clarkson and a 3-2 loss in the opener of this series in which Powers felt like his team outplayed the Gophers but couldn’t find the puck luck that has eluded this once-potent offense for much of the season.  

With four minutes left on Saturday, ASU trailed by a goal again and it looked like the Sun Devils were headed to their fourth straight loss and a sub.-500 record heading into a series next weekend at No. 1 ranked and defending national champion Denver. Arizona State was staring at the very real possibility of a 7-10 record.

But Matthew Kopperud set up Dylan Jackson in the high slot to rip one past Gophers goalie Justen Close to tie the game at 5-5 with 3:09 training in regulation. Then Mastrosimone stole the spotlight, just as he had with the game-winning goal against a heavily slanted North Dakota crowd, setting off a wild celebration.

“We needed it bad,” Powers said. “It was a must win.

“To get it the way we did tonight where it didn’t feel like, in stretches, it was going to happen because of how good that team is, was really good.”

Minnesota is a genuine national title contender. Aside from the fact that 14 NHL draft picks dot its roster, its top line of Jimmy Snuggerud, Coyotes prospect Logan Cooley and Arizona product Matthew Knies (who was the best player on the ice on Saturday) may be the best collegiate line in the nation.

Cooley and Snuggerud (Blues) are first-round picks; Knies (Maple Leafs) is a second-round pick. For most of the night, the Sun Devils had no answer for that trio, which combined for six points in the game, 10 in the series and a whole lot of breathtaking plays.

“I’m just glad we don’t play them again,” Powers quipped. “They’re literally the perfect line. They’re constructed perfectly. They have everything you need.”

A win over such a quality opponent will have immediate ramifications for ASU. When it wakes up on Sunday, it will likely find itself back in the low 20s in the PairWise rankings that largely determine the NCAA Tournament field of 16. The low 20s is not where the Sun Devils want to be, but Minnesota will win a lot of games so this win will keep helping in the PairWise, and if the Devils can somehow split in Denver, they’ll be in the driver’s seat with a largely favorable and home-heavy schedule. The team is 6-2 at Mullett Arena.

A loss on Saturday would have put the Sun Devils in a very tough spot. With a win, they are very much in the hunt again for their first tournament bid since 2019. 

“I love this team to death,” said Mastrosimone, whose leg and foot were still tapping rapidly when he reached the postage interview room; a sure sign that the buzz of the win hadn’t yet subsided. “I think we’re unbelievably good, unbelievably talented and deep.

“We’ve had a few games where we’ve definitely controlled the game, dominated the game and should have won the game but pucks just don’t go your way and that’s hockey. That happens sometimes but I have full faith in my teammates and [goalie] TJ [Semptimphelter] and even the guys who don’t play every night. I have faith in everyone.” 

Top photo: ASU celebrates a 6-5 OT win over No. 2 Minnesota (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

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