For the first time in the program’s short history, No. 12 Arizona State (20-10-1) has a 20-win season. The Devils achieved the accolade by upending American International College (17-13-1) by a final score of 4-1.
In another historic night, and on the eve of senior night, the freshmen came up big.
Freshman forward Demetrios Kouzmontzis registered three points in Friday’s game and freshman defenseman Josh Maniscalco had a goal and an assist in the winning effort.
The duo even combined for a 2-on-0 goal where Maniscalco set the table for his freshman counterpart.
“They aren’t freshmen anymore. They know what to do. They are both incredibly talented kids and we are lucky that they are here and we are glad that they are here,” said head coach Greg Powers. “They put us on their back tonight and they won us a game.”
Friday’s game started with a less than ideal start for ASU. From the get-go, AIC had good jump and they pounced on their opportunities less than two minutes into the game. Squeaking past the Sun Devil defense, Yellow Jacket junior forward Joel Kocur slid a puck past junior goaltender Joey Daccord. It was 1-0 AIC early.
However, ASU picked dusted themselves off with two big sequences from special teams. First, sophomore forward Johnny Walker netted a power play goal to tie the game, and then the Devils ended up on the wrong end of a 5-on-3 advantage for AIC.
The team killed off the penalty and kept the score at one going into the first intermission. The penalty kill and the power play came up big early on, and the Sun Devils scored their first power play goal since Jan. 5 against Boston College. It was one of two tallies on the man advantage.
“I thought special teams won us the game. Two power play goals and a bunch of really good kills. A 5-on-3...It was a long one and I don’ t think they got a shot,” Powers said. “The guys on the kill really did a good job tonight.”
The second power play goal came on a miraculous play from Maniscalco. On a shot from the right point, a puck trickled near the left circle off to the side of AIC junior goaltender Zackarias Skog. With a full head of steam, Maniscalco crashed from the blue line and dove head first toward the puck.
Similar to a base runner in baseball sliding head first into the bag, Maniscalco gave a full extension and poked the puck into the air, and into the back of the goal. According to Maniscalco, there was a reason behind the diving effort.
“Right before that, Coach Hicks (ASU’s assistant coach) kind of got on us in the locker room for not competing for pucks,” Maniscalco said. “Max (Balinson) put the puck on net, kind of keeping it simple and it just kind of squirted out in front of me. I thought I was going to loose the race (to the puck) so I kind of dove for it and slapped it on net. I was fortunate enough for it to go in.”
Along with the diving effort, Maniscalco set up Koumontzis’ lone goal of the game on a 2-on-0 rush. Maniscalco feathered over a pass to his teammate and he proceeded to cash in for a 2-1 lead.
“I kind of faked the goalie and it was a beautiful pass,” said Koumontzis of Maniscalco’s helper. “It was a tap in. I will take it (the goal) whenever I can get it.”
Tied in with a third period empty net goal and timely saves from Daccord, ASU made program history by reaching 20 wins. AIC played well enough to possibly earn a victory, as they outshot ASU 25-24, but once again the Devils found a way to get the job done. It has seemed to be the story of the season for the youngest program in college hockey.
It was another step closer to the NCAA Tournament. With senior night on Saturday, a sweep of a first place AIC team out of the Atlantic Conference could all but seal history for the Devils. However, it’s still one game at a time and the sense of urgency dial has to be all the way up.
“You can’t lead a conference in Division I hockey and not be really good,” Powers said. “That’s a good hockey team...That game could have been theirs tonight. I thought our goalie played really well and we are going to have to be better if we are going to sweep this team.”