In a matter of 74 seconds, the Arizona State Sun Devils saw their dreams of an undefeated season in ACHA play go up in flames.
Midway through the second period, Robert Morris forward Chris Pontello connected on a breakaway opportunity that gave the Eagles a two-goal lead, and the visitors from Illinois kept their good times rolling. Just 56 seconds after Pontello's goal, Rock Einersen netted his 10th goal of the season and the Eagles led 3-0. Moments later, Gehrett Sargis sent the Robert Morris bench into a frenzy when he finished another breakaway chance that gave the Eagles a seemingly insurmountable four goal lead.
Ultimately, the flurry of goals proved too much to overcome for a team that has demonstrated their scoring prowess on a nightly basis in ACHA regular season play. The Sun Devils fell 5-3, and their hopes of a perfect season came to a shocking end.
After an emotional victory over an NCAA Division I Penn State team last weekend, the Sun Devils returned to Tempe on Friday night eager to defend their No. 1 ranking in the ACHA. Arizona State carried on their momentum in a dominating 7-4 outing, but the Sun Devils looked like a completely different team as they stepped onto the ice on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, the new look was not a matter of choice but rather necessity. After losing forwards Kory Chisholm, Ben Findlay, Faiz Khan, and Dan Styrna to injury over the past three games, the Sun Devils dressed every healthy player on the roster, but Coach Greg Powers maintains that Arizona State had the talent to win.
"It's a good lesson for our guys because they can't just show up and expect to win. We can't use the excuse that we were short, but we still had a lineup put together that can beat anybody," Powers said.
Coach Powers assembled several fresh lines for Saturday's contests including an all-newcomers unit that included Stephen Collins, Brian McGinty, and Jordan Young. Normally a defenseman, the Sun Devils' dire injury issues forced Young to play in uncomfortable territory.
After the Eagles scoring barrage in the second period, Young wasn't the only Sun Devil in an unfamiliar situation. Arizona State came into Saturday's contest a stellar 19-0 in ACHA play, and trailed by two goals in just one of their 19 league games. Though the Sun Devils went on to defeat the Lindenwood Lions in a comeback effort, a four-goal deficit proved too difficult to overcome against Robert Morris.
While the Sun Devils struggled to find offensive rhythm throughout the game, they showed flashes of brilliance that reminded everyone why they deserve the No. 1 ranking. Trailing 1-0 late in the first period, forward Stephen Collins sent a stunning buzzer beater past Robert Morris goalie Anthony Petrak, but the goal was disallowed because a Sun Devil was offside.
After the initial goal announcement, Oceanside Arena erupted in a roar, but the referees' final decision to disallow Collins' goal sent the crowd into a shocking silence.
Facing a 4-0 deficit with less than 10 minutes to play, the Sun Devils charged back with an inspiring effort led by the Arizona State veterans. Kale Dolinski notched a goal, and Danny McAuliffe added another just 14 seconds later to cut the Eagles' lead to 4-2. When Colin Hekle scored with less than two minutes remaining, Coach Greg Powers pulled goalie Corey Frank and the Sun Devils gambled with an extra man on the ice.
The risk did not pay dividends, as Robert Morris captain Chris Cimoch capped off the evening with an empty netter to give the Eagles a 5-3 victory.
The Sun Devils' failure to score plagued them throughout the evening, but multiple defensive lapses in the second period crushed their comeback chances. Arizona State dug a deep hole after the Eagles capitalized on their breakaway chances, and Dolinski acknowledged the defensive difficulties.
"They won puck battles. We were terrible, we couldn't control the puck and they just wanted it more," Dolinski said.
Though the Sun Devils saw their dreams of perfection crushed on their home ice, the defeat came at the hands of a very talented squad. The Robert Morris Eagles have just two tallies in their loss column this year, and these two teams could see each other again in the national tournament.
"We just have to do what we have to do to get better and make sure that this loss doesn't happen on their home ice in the tournament," Powers said.