No one embodies Thursday's game for the No. 1 Sun Devils better than Eric Rivard. The team as a whole came out flat to start, falling behind 2-0 after the first period, while Rivard took three penalties.
Then the second period started, and Arizona State flipped the switch, storming back and winning 6-4 over No. 9 Liberty, and Rivard came in with the final goal.
"The penalties, they are what they are, you can't control that," Rivard said. "The last shift there, just working hard, it just kind of ended up working out."
There were 38 seconds left, Arizona State (11-1-0, 2-1-0 WCHL) holding a 5-4 lead. Liberty (7-2-4) had just called its timeout, trying to set up an opportunity to pull its goalie and start one final rush. Arizona State kept the puck in the Flames' defensive zone, and from his knees Rivard wheeled around and slip the puck into the net to put the game on ice.
It only got to that point because of a strong final two-thirds of the game. Arizona State came out slow, getting outshot 16-5 in the first period, in what was possibly their worst 20 minutes all season. Whatever Powers told the team during the first intermission worked, as it outshot Liberty 36-14 the rest of the way.
"I said all you can do after playing a period that poorly is erase it and go out," Powers said. "Luckily we have a lot of firepower and we showed it."
That firepower Came in the form of sophomore forward Chris Burkemper. Two minutes into the middle frame, Burkemper and linemate Tommy Cooney somehow found themselves all alone in the attacking zone. Cooney passed to Burkemper, back to Cooney, to Burkemper, and into the net for the first Sun Devil goal of the game.
Five minutes later, Burkemper connected on the power play, again assisted by Cooney.
"I was just a little pissed off about the first period," Burkemper said. "We came out and proved we were a much better team the next two periods.
"(Cooney and I) have been playing together all year, we've got really good chemistry. It's fun because we're both fast, and we got big (Rivard) going in the corners, winning every puck, winning every battle."
Arizona State took a 4-3 lead into the third, then Liberty tied it on the strangest goal of the season. The puck got caught in the jersey of Arizona State sophomore defenseman Connor Schmidt. He got it out, tried to clear but Liberty junior forward Kyle Garcia flung a shot from the point. It bounced off Arizona State goalie Robert Levin's blocker, off defenseman Ed McGovern and into the net.
A minute and a half later, Sun Devil forward Liam Norris collected a missed shot by freshman Connor Mailey, and roofed it into the net for a 5-4 lead. Then Rivard sealed it with 38 seconds left.
"I'm proud of our guys for the way they played those last two periods.
Three stars (Selected by media)
Third star: Lindsay LeBlanc, forward, Liberty. A goal and assist and made his presence known all night long.
Second star: Liam Norris, forward, Arizona State. His goal was the game-winner with 7:19 left in the third.
First star: Chris Burkemper, forward, Arizona State: Two goals, and came close to finishing the trick on more than one occasion.
– Powers had some choice words for one of the referees after the game.
"(Rivard) is not a guy that takes a lot of penalties," Powers said. "The last two games that guy has called our games, (Rivard) has six, so he has it out for him. None of those (three called penalties Thursday night) were penalties.
"Quite frankly, (he was) getting screwed over the entire game by the guy wearing the stripes."
Prior to Thursday's game, Rivard came into the game with 22 penalty minutes, tops on the team.
– Rivard's goal was his seventh on the year, giving him sole possession of the team lead.
– It was the fourth time this season Robert Levin allowed at least three goals in a game, one of those being in relief last weekend against Central Oklahoma.
Arizona State's next game is next Thursday against Colorado at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.