Looking for their first rivalry win of the 2014-15 season, Arizona State Sun Devils came into Friday night's showdown against rival Arizona with extra intensity and parlayed that intensity into a victory, knocking off the Wildcats 4-1.
The last time the Sun Devils and Wildcats met up in Tempe, it was the visitors who ruined Arizona State's senior night, breaking a 37-game Arizona State win streak in the rivalry that spanned the length of many players' full college careers. The Sun Devils responded from the streak-breaking loss in Tucson, beating the Wildcats twice on their home ice before Arizona State began its run to the national championship. But it was clear on Friday that the senior night loss was still on the mind of Arizona State, and they played with a chip on its shoulder. Even in the win, head coach Greg Powers expressed frustration with his team's play.
"They're not a skill team, but from a standpoint of judging 60 minutes of hockey, they outworked us," he said. "There's no doubt about that."
Before all of the fans had even settled into their seat, tensions rose between the two teams. An early skirmish between the Sun Devils and Wildcats led to two Arizona penalties, while Arizona State had three men sent to the box. More penalties were issued throughout the night, as both teams made concerted efforts to establish physical domination.
Amidst the fighting, the Sun Devils were given multiple scoring opportunities in the first period, and the defending champs took advantage. Arizona State first got on the scoreboard at the 11:07 mark as Alex Temby found an open Drew Newmeyer next to the goal, and Newmeyer did the rest as his high shot squeaked past the Arizona goalie to give the Sun Devils a 1-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later, Michael Cummings led an Arizona State breakaway, and finished off the break with a rocket goal past Arizona goalie Garrett Patrick that upped the Sun Devil lead to 2-0. Arizona got opportunities on goal in the first period, but goalie Robert Levin wasted all of the Wildcats' efforts, and the goalie had a clean sheet through twenty minutes.
Arizona State got an early goal in the second period, as Ryan Belonger found himself with the puck after a deflection and beat Patrick to give the Sun Devils a 3-0 lead. But the Wildcats remained aggressive, and finally got on the board with 11:23 left on a power play. With Arizona State down one man due to another roughing penalty, Alex O'dea got a shot past Levin to put Arizona on the board, and the 3-1 score held through the remainder of the period.
Looking for another goal to add insurance to their lead, the Sun Devil attack remained aggressive in the third period, and with 11:17 left in regulation, that's exactly what Arizona State got. A bad pass from Arizona allowed the Sun Devils to try to catch the Wildcat defense on their heels. Connor Mailey found Liam Norris in traffic, and Norris threaded the needle between two Wildcat defenders and past the Arizona goalie to give an extra cushion to the Sun Devil lead at 4-1. Each team got additional chances on goal, but neither could capitalize as Arizona State exited the ice with a victory.
Arizona's physicality out of the gate was something that Powers said Arizona State has to expect.
"They have to play that way, and every team we play honestly has to play that way," coach Powers said. "Because they can't match our skill, they can't match our depth, they can't match our speed. So they have to try and mess up the flow of the game a little bit. Get a few guys in the box, get guys out of their mindset. And they did that tonight."
Belonger, a newcomer to this year's team, commented on his first experience in the rivalry.
"I heard that the games tend to get a little rough," Belonger said. "That's just being more disciplined than they are and letting them be stupid and take the penalties."
While they came away with the victory, the Sun Devils fell flat on power play, finishing 0-3 in their chances.
"it was bad. It was bad all the way around," Powers said. "We switched up units, maybe that was a bad idea. But with (Jordan Young) back, he runs the best power play in our league. It was rusty tonight but that's to be expected. But that wasn't why the power play didn't work. UA just outworked us on the penalty kill."
With the win, the Sun Devils improve to 7-0 on the season, but the Wildcats get a chance to spoil another special Arizona State night, as the two teams will meet again on Saturday night after the Sun Devils raise their championship banner.
Three Stars (selected by media)
Third star: Connor Mailey (Two assists)
Second star: Robert Levin (One goal allowed, 19 saves)
First star: Ryan Belonger (One goal, one assist)