Michael Cummings guessed the last time he had a hat trick was back when he was with the Phoenix Knights of the Western States Hockey League. He couldn't remember exactly, but it wasn't at ASU.
His first ASU hat trick could not have come at better time, as his three goals lifted his No. 1 Sun Devils to an 8-5 victory and a series sweep over No. 2 Central Oklahoma.
"The net just seemed a little bit bigger tonight," Cummings said. "Everything was going in and the goalie didn't do a good job of stopping it.
Cummings was a healthy scratch last night, watching from the sidelines. He had a meeting with coach Greg Powers, who told him to keep it simple and good things will happen. Cummings was pencilled to the fourth line, where his job was to keep the puck out of the defensive zone.
"We specifically told him before the game his job is to not score goals," Powers said. Cummings, wearing the team's hard hat for player of the game, laughed and Ed McGovern, seated to his left at the press conference, gave him a sarcastic pat on the leg.
But the team will take a hat trick every chance it gets and all three of Cummings' goals came at key points in the game.
The first broke a 1-1 tie with 6:40 left in the first period. Cummings' center Kyle Bowen broke out on a partial breakaway and took a shot that flew into the air. When it came down Cummings crashed the net and hurled it past Central Oklahoma goalie Bretton Patchett.
His second made the score 4-2 in the second and his third, the eventual game winner, broke a 5-5 tie in the third. They were his 16th, 17th and 18th goals of the season and his fourth game-winning goal.
"All he did was gain entry and protect the puck with his big body and he's got a laser and they're hard to handle," Powers said. "Three out his five shots went in. It was a goo night for him."
For Cummings, yes. For the ASU (24-3-0) defense as a unit, not so good. The Sun Devils allowed five goals against the netminder, the first time they had done so since the first Central Oklahoma (21-5-0) game back on Oct. 16 (Oklahoma's fifth goal Thursday was against an empty net). The five goals allowed by Robert Levin were a career high.
Central Oklahoma took a lead into the second intermission when it was up 5-4. Something clicked in the final frame, when ASU scored four and did not allow a goal against. ASU only allowed five shots all period after surrendering 23 in the pervious two periods.
"We didn't waver," Powers said. "It was 5-4, we were down a goal to No. 2 and we just swept them at home. We'll take it."
The first goal of the game came on the power play, and area in which the Sun Devils have struggled this year. It was McGovern who, after a game of pitch-and-catch from Jordan Young, fired a wicked wrist shot upstairs to tie the game in the first period.
It was McGovern's ninth goal of the season, tops among ASU defenseman.
"Jordy gave me a sweet pass and I used the d-man to screen and found the back of the net there," McGovern said.
As a whole, ASU's special teams did not have a good night. At one point in the second period, Central Oklahoma scored three straight goals, two on the power play and one short-handed. One came right off a draw and on another, Bowen had a chance to clear and swung and missed. The turnover led to an easy opportunity.
The night wasn't perfect for the Sun Devils, but the offense picked it up and a win is a win. And if ASU can find a way to win when its star goaltender had the worst game of his career, it bodes well for the future.
"We'll get back to work and polish some things up this week and pay attention to detail get him back on track," Powers said. "He was in net for a big win and that's all we care about is the win."
Three stars (selected by media)
Third star: Ed McGovern, defenseman, Arizona State. Goal, assist and strong defensive game.
Second star: Sean Murphy, forward, Arizona State. Two goals.
First star: Michael Cummings, forward, Arizona State. Hat trick.