Less than 24 hours after one of the team’s most sluggish performances of the season, No. 15 Arizona State (14-7-1) returned to the ice on Saturday in the Desert Hockey Classic against No. 3 Minnesota State (14-5-1), and the Devils bounced back in a big way.
ASU recorded a 2-2 tie against a high-caliber Minnesota State team after 65 minutes of action. The game went to a shootout and ASU won, but due to NCAA rules, the game goes down as a tie in the record books.
Nonetheless, the performance and the highly-contested battle against a formidable top-five opponent proved what the Sun Devils are capable of when they play to their full capacity.
“We played to our identity for the most part outside of about seven or eight minutes in the second period,” head coach Greg Powers said. “That’s a really good team...They played really well in the second period, but outside of that, I thought we just played to our identity and played really well.”
ASU cracked the scoreboard first in the opening frame of Saturday’s game when sophomore forward Johnny Walker laid a pass on the tape of freshman forward Jordan Sandhu, who tapped home the puck into the back of a wide open cage.
In Saturday’s game, Walker was shuffled and put alongside Brett Gruber and Sandhu on the top line for ASU. It was one of a few changes in lines that occurred. With the mashup, Walker and Sandhu were able to make a connection in the first period.
However, the tides turned coming out of the gates in the second period. A high-powered Minnesota State offense came to life, and it did so in a 10 minute stretch that Powers alluded to above.
With multiple strong shifts, the Mavericks scored two goals in the period, and they out shot ASU by a total of 15-4.
“I thought we were really good tonight outside of a few stretches there in the second (period),” said Powers of Minnesota State’s second period push. “That team, you are not going to keep that team on their heels for 60 minutes. They are too good.”
Trailing by just one goal, Powers and his troops buckled in for a big third period, and things came to a climax when the Devils appeared to tie the game on a Brinson Pasichnuk goal with about five minutes remaining.
On the play, Pasichnuk and a jumble of bodies converged on the front of the MSU net. Pasichnuk was able to send home a puck with Maverick freshman goaltender Dryden McKay down in the crease.
Although there were a number of bodies in the area, it was deemed that Pasichnuk committed goalie interference after a replay review, and the goal was disallowed. Whether it was the right call or not, the moment seemed to draw a little bit of a fire underneath the Sun Devil bench.
“You kind of felt it. We scored one early (in the third period), and we all thought that should have counted,” Walker said. “Brinny (Brinson) tapped it in, but this team just deals with adversity all the time. There’s just no quit.”
Walker’s actions later in the period would back up his words.
With the goalie pulled and under 30 seconds remaining, Walker was the recipient of a puck that ping-ponged off of multiple players and found its way onto the stick of the leading goal-scorer in college hockey. Being in the right place at the right time, Walker slid the puck into the back of the net.
That set the stage for a five-minute, 5-on-5 overtime that resulted in no goals and a 2-2 tie. However, a shootout would still occur between the two teams, thus leaving a bittersweet taste in what was otherwise a well-played, exciting hockey game between two ranked teams.
The ties and shootouts are all part of college hockey and its rules, although Powers had a strong opinion on the current format after the game.
“I hate ties...It’s not good for college hockey,” Powers said. “If it’s good enough for the NHL to go to 3-on-3, and then a shootout, and have it count, why is it not good enough for us? It’s ridiculous. It has to change. If we want to grow the game, that’s the basis for our program out here. We want to grow the game out west, you can't end games in ties. You got to end games like that. Hopefully someone wakes up that can make the decision.”
In the shootout, ASU sophomore defenseman Max Balinson, who was making just his third start all season, ended up playing the role of shootout hero. He roofed a shot in the fifth round that allowed junior goaltender Joey Daccord to close the door with a pad save on the following play.
The game went down as a tie, but it was a strong game for the Sun Devils after a performance that fell flat the night prior. The game further exemplified that ASU can compete with some of college hockey’s elite. It’s just a matter of stringing it all together.
“When I was recruited here, Greg Powers always said, ‘Be the Tradition.’ We are not messing around,” Balinson said. “We are a program to reckon with now.”