It's common knowledge that when Arizona State and Arizona battle in any sport, team records can be tossed out the window. In a rivalry filled with so much pure hatred, anything is possible.
Add in a few other factors to this equation—the injury-riddled lineup for ASU, home ice advantage for UofA, and the fact that ASU's postseason seeding is already set in stone—and the chances for a Wildcat upset win were running higher than normal.
But not high enough.
During a fiercely contested game on Saturday night, the Sun Devils ran their winning streak over the Wildcats to an incredible 32 consecutive games, thanks to a 3-1 victory to close out the regular seasons for both teams.
"It just feels great to beat those guys, game after game," said ASU senior defenseman Brian Parson, who will have the distinction of concluding his four-season Sun Devil career having never lost to UofA.
For the Wildcats, their season is now over, but ASU will be taking the momentum from this series sweep into next week's national tournament.
Special teams ruled the early action on Saturday night.
ASU's Sean Ritchie was sent to the penalty box eight minutes into the game for a cross check, and the Wildcats wasted no time in cashing in. Bryan Drazner was able to slip the puck passed ASU goalie Joe D'Elia just 16 seconds into the power play to give UofA the 1-0 lead. Thanks to a Ryan Clark unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Sun Devils remained on the penalty kill for two minutes immediately after the goal, but their effort was better there.
With just under seven minutes left in the opening period, ASU got a power play chance of their own. After ASU forward David Jantzie made a great play to defuse a potential shorthanded opportunity by the Wildcats, he guided the puck into the offensive zone, and with a scrum in front of UofA goalie Robert Schultz, Jantzie found teammate Faiz Khan, who scored to tie the game.
That 1-1 score would stand throughout the second period, despite an embarrassment of great chances for the Sun Devils.
In total, there were eight Wildcat penalties in the period, including a game misconduct, which resulted in extensive power play time for the Sun Devils. ASU even had two lengthy 5-on-3 opportunities, but the special teams were sorely missing the presence of Colin Hekle and Kale Dolinski, and failed to score on Schultz. Schultz was simply outstanding on Saturday, turning back 40 of the 42 shots he faced, including a sensational, pad-stacking save on one of ASU's 5-on-3 chances, and earned high praise from the Sun Devils.
"Their goalie just played one hell of a game, and hats off to him. This was the last game he was ever going to play and he went out in style. He nearly stole it,' said ASU head coach Greg Powers after the game.
The failed opportunities appeared to be taking a toll on the Sun Devils heading into the third period. The intensity and swagger that has come to define ASU hockey was lacking, resulting in several mistakes in the period's opening minutes. Yet the Sun Devil defense did just enough to weather the storm to allow the team to get out of the funk.
"Joe had to make one or two quality saves, as defensively we were great. We held them to a one-goal game, and that's very positive heading into Nationals," said Powers.
With the solid defense behind them, ASU pressed the attack late. Finally, with just under eight minutes left, they solved the Schultz riddle, when Danny McAuliffe scored off an assist from Dan Styrna to take a 2-1 lead. The Sun Devil bench erupted as the Tucson Convention Center went silent. Win No. 32 was on the horizon, but it would come easy.
With 2:11 left in regulation, ASU's Troy Scott was called for a high sticking penalty, and the Wildcats would have one final chance. With Schultz pulled for the extra attacker, the Wildcats fired a few quality shots, and appeared to have a great chance at the equalizer, but ASU center Kyle Bowen soon made the play of the game. After blocking a high-percentage shot, Bowen then skated through a UofA player and buried the puck in the empty net to ensure the streak would live on.
"I just kind of swung my stick and got lucky, then skated it down and put it away," Bowen said of his incredible play.
D'Elia made 28 saves in the win, running his record to 23-4 on the year. In a valiant effort in defeat, Schultz fell to 3-8.
The win was an encouraging step for the Sun Devils as they will now head to Chicago as the No. 2 seed in the ACHA tournament in pursuit of their first national championship. With the momentum of yet another sweep over their hated rivals, Powers is feeling good about his team.
"We played really well. We played disciplined, we kept our heads. We kept things simple, we put pucks on net. We feel really good about where we're at."
1st - UofA, 11:58 - Drazner (6), Power Play
1st - ASU, 4:45 - Khan (13), assist Jantzie, Power Play
3rd - ASU, 7:42 - McAuliffe (19), assist Styrna
3rd - ASU, 0:25 - Bowen (3), Empty Net