(Photo: Allyson Cummings)
The #1 ranked Sun Devils found themselves in a hard fought battle with tournament nemesis Oakland, but clutch goaltending and a great shootout goal was enough for the win.
With the No. 1 ranking in the ACHA and an undefeated record, the Arizona State Sun Devils are in the midst of quite a run. However, there remained one measure of unfinished business for the nation's top team.
Last March, the Sun Devils' postseason tournament run was cut short thanks to an opening round upset by then 14th seeded Oakland.
On Thursday night, ASU was able to exact some measure of revenge on the Golden Grizzlies, who themselves were now No. 7 in the nation in a thrilling and hard fought game that went down to the fourth round of a shootout.
The tone was set from the opening faceoff. Each team showed off a good pace, complete with crisp passes into the offensive zones. However, good defense by each squad prevented any significant scoring chances.
ASU appeared to net the game's first goal on a nice one-timer, but the goal was waved off due as the net was dislodged by Oakland goalie Corey Hrischuk prior to the shot. ASU then had two power plays in which their execution was off, and Oakland was able to generate a few shots, including a breakaway that was turned away by Sun Devil goalie Joe D'Elia.
The Sun Devils finally converted with seven minutes remaining. With each team a man down after a scrum along the end boards, Kale Dolinksi scored his 14th goal of the season, off assists by Sean Ritchie and Danny McAuliffe, and that 1-0 lead held through the end of the opening period.
The intensity ramped up a notch in the second period. Several huge hits of varying degrees of legality were delivered by each team throughout the second 20 minutes. Just seconds after ASU had killed off a Stephen Collins high sticking penalty, Oakland's Anthony Coles scored a goal off a rebound to even the score at 1-1.
It appeared the Golden Grizzlies would gain the lead on several occasions, as they exerted control of the pace and possession for most of the period. D'Elia was excellent, making several outstanding saves to bail out the Sun Devil defense.
ASU started off the third period in much better fashion, generating good pressure early on. With the tension mounting, the Sun Devils broke through thanks to a highlight reel play, as Dolinski netted his second of the night at the 12:12 mark off of some incredible quick passes from Hekle and McAuliffe.
That momentum, however, was short lived.
Less than three minutes later, Oakland benefited from a flukey bounce. A shot by Brian Maker hit a standing D'Elia in the blocker, the puck bounced into the air up and over him and rolled into the net for the tying goal at the 9:48 mark. There were some thrilling moments over the course of the rest of regulation, but each team came up just short, and the game went into overtime.
Both D'Elia and Hrischuk came up with huge saves in the sudden death overtime period, and denied each chance, sending the game into a shootout....
Oakland: Frank Matyok - save by D'Elia on poke check
ASU: David Jantzie - save by Hrischuk on backhand
Oakland - Anthony Coles - SCORES on wrister
ASU - Faiz Khan - SCORES (watch here)
Oakland - Bill Balent - saved
ASU - Colin Hekle - saved
Oakland - Richard Hubscher - saved
ASU - Stephen Collins - SCORES game winner...which you can watch below
With the win, ASU moves to 14-0-0 on the year. They will host Colorado on Friday night at 8 p.m. at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.
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