The beginning of the 2012 season has gone about as well as Arizona State could have hoped for, as they entered the weekend ranked No. 1 in the ACHA with a perfect 18-0-0 record.
With the Sun Devils having proved that they were the class of the ACHA through the first half of the season, the team traveled out to Happy Valley to face what should be their toughest challenge of the regular season: a two-game series against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions recently moved up from the ACHA to the NCAA Division I level after winning five league championships, and have a deep and talented team. Undaunted, Arizona State was determined to make a statement that they could compete at this level.
Early on, the Devils' defense was able to stifle any Nittany Lion offense. ASU was especially effective in clogging up the neutral zone, and what chances did find their way through the defense were turned away by goalie Joe D'Elia, although he did allow several big rebounds. The lengthy stalemate was broken at the 12:20 mark of the opening period by the visitors. Faiz Khan gained possession in the left corner of the offensive zone and found Dan Styrna atop the slot, who unleashed a great wrister past Penn State goaltender Matthew Skoff for his sixth goal of the year.
However, the lead was short lived, as following a Jordan Young cross checking penalty, Penn State struck with the man advantage. Luke Juha notched his second goal of the year on a nice one-timer with just 1:15 left in the period.
That momentum carried over in a big way into the second period.
Those rebound issues D'Elia battled in the first came back to bite him and the Sun Devils. First, Tommy Olczyk was able to poke in a loose puck after D'Elia was unable to haul in a shot off of his glove to give Penn State a 2-1 lead just two minutes into the period. Just 2:19 later, another rebound off D'Elia found its way to the left side of the crease, where it was nudged in by Michael Longo. The final blow in this blitzkrieg came just over a minute later, when D'Elia was beat by a strong wristshot from David Glen.
Penn State then held a 4-1 lead, and ASU head coach Greg Powers had seen enough, and pulled D'Elia in favor of Kyle Dietriech.
Perhaps that gave the team the needed boost, as the Sun Devils soon answered back. Colin Hekle was able to pick up a Penn State turnover behind their net and feed Khan who was able to beat Skoff to trim it to a two-goal Nittany Lion advantage. For the rest of the period, ASU was in control.
That is until a Ryan Clark slashing penalty with just 38 seconds left in the period. Just 13 seconds into that man-advantage, Glen was able to fire the puck in top shelf to give the Nittany Lions a commanding 5-2 lead.
ASU appeared to gain some momentum early in the final frame. Just 2:26 into the final period, Styrna fired in his second goal of the night from the right circle to pull the Sun Devils to within a 5-3 margin. However, Longo also wanted a two-goal game, and after Dietriech made a too-casual play on the puck, Longo was able to unleash a nice backhander that beat Dietriech on the near post to regain a three-goal lead.
Later in the period, Penn State's Eric Steinour led a two-on-one breakaway, and showed off an amazing deke to beat defenseman Brian Parson and Deitriech for the seventh goal, and minutes later Glen completed his hat trick with a nice redirection goal to make the score 8-3, which would be the final.
As this was an inter-level game and technically an "exhibition", the game will not hurt Arizona State in the standings. So there's a silver lining.
These two teams will finish the series tomorrow night, with the puck dropping at 5:30 p.m. MT.
Shots on Goal
Penn State: 52
Penn State 3/3