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ASU Hockey: Mercyhurst spoils the Devils’ season opener

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A wild one on opening night

Richard Martinez/House of Sparky

No. 20 Arizona State (0-1) was in control. Three minutes separated them from their third consecutive year with an opening night victory at Oceanside Arena.

However, disaster struck. Mercyhurst (1-0), who had nine freshmen playing in its starting lineup, rallied to score two goals over the final 2:29 to stun the Sun Devils in a 3-2 final at Oceanside Ice Arena.

“It was a loss that we didn’t see coming,” said head coach Greg Powers. “We were in complete control of the game…They weren’t generating anything offensively on us and we were in control of the game. But they got some bounces and won.”

As Powers alluded to, the loss was bizarre. ASU outshot the Lakers 35-23, and controlled zone time for nearly the entire second and third period. Going into the final frame tied at one, senior defenseman and captain Brinson Pasichnuk unleashed a wrist shot that put the Devils ahead with just under 12 minutes remaining. It looked like the eventual game-winner.

ASU was in the driver’s seat, and sophomore goaltender Evan DeBrouwer was hardly tested. Nonetheless, two bad sequences were all it took to mount the upset for Mercyhurst.

Up 2-1, an interference call was assessed to senior forward Steen Pasichnuk. ASU had nearly killed off the minor in a late-game situation. Mercyhurst hadn’t been able to generate any grade-A chances, and the time was nearly killed off.

But then when it looked like the penalty was about to be terminated, a puck was slung toward the front of the net. Sophomore defenseman Jarrod Gourley was in front of DeBrouwer, and he went to clear the puck out of the zone.

The normally steady, sure-handed d-man had the puck roll up on him, and it skipped over his stick. Parked behind him was Laker senior forward Jonny Lazarus, who corralled the rolling biscuit. To his delight, he found himself one-on-one with ASU’s netminder. He roofed a shot over the blocker side, tying the game at two.

“Gourley just took a big wind up at the puck and fanned on it,” said Powers of the game-tying tally. “They got a good bounce. It was weird.”

Then, with under 30 seconds remaining, ASU lost a draw in its own zone. Mercyhurst broke the other way on a three-man rush. On the right wing, Laker sophomore center Steven Ipri saucered over a perfect pass to freshman defenseman Owen Norton, who received the pass on the back post and tucked it just past DeBrouwer.

The Mercyhurst bench erupted, and a big crowd on hand in Tempe was stunned. Powers discussed the latter stages of the offensive face-off in ASU’s own zone.

“I put a veteran group out up front to get us to overtime essentially, and they (Mercyhurst) made a play,” Powers said. “It was unfortunate.”

Thus, an opening night upset took place. Aside from the final three minutes, ASU played a solid hockey game for most of the night. Junior Miami-Ohio transfer Willie Knierim scored the Devils’ first goal of the season on an end-to-end stretch pass from sophomore defenseman Josh Maniscalco, and Brinson Pasichnuk’s late goal looked to be the difference until the final minutes.

DeBrouwer made the saves he needed to, and he was a big part of a 4-on-3 penalty kill in the second period that led to offensive momentum after a sluggish Sun Devil start. In the first period, Mercyhurst had a better start, generating 10 shots compared to ASU’s four.

A slow first period and a disastrous three minutes ended up being the difference, and it spoiled an opening night celebration. Looking at the box score, Saturday night was one of those head-scratchers.

The hope now is that an upset loss doesn’t hurt the team down the line, as the margin of error is thin as an independent program in NCAA hockey. Regardless, ASU doesn’t have time to sulk, and they will have to get back up on the horse tomorrow afternoon once more against the Lakers.

“You got to learn from that and it’s getting off to a slow start. It ended up dooming us,” Powers said. “I thought we were really good in the last two periods, we just couldn’t put the puck in the net. When you are struggling to score, and you get off to a slow start, those are the things that can happen. That team snuck out a win.”