It was a senior night to remember as No. 12 Arizona State (21-10-1) upended American International College (17-14-1) 5-4 in overtime to secure a series sweep against the Yellow Jackets. Saturday’s game had a little bit of everything in the final ASU game of the year at Oceanside Ice Arena.
On an emotional night where five ASU seniors were honored, it was a freshman in PJ Marrocco who buried the game-winner in OT for the Sun Devils.
The starting lineup for the opening face-off on Saturday consisted of Anthony Croston, Dylan Hollman, Jack Rowe, Jakob Stridsberg, and Jake Clifford. The five seniors took the ice together.
In Saturday’s postgame press conference, all five seniors stepped to the podium joined alongside head coach Greg Powers, and they sat back and reflected about their four-year journey on an emotional night both on and off the ice.
“It was emotional,” senior forward Anthony Croston said. “To be able to get a dub in our last home game here is pretty special for us and hopefully we can continue this for the last couple games of the season.”
The pregame ceremonies and senior highlights were certainly well-documented on Saturday, but that didn’t take away from what turned out to be a fast-paced, physical, and chippy game between ASU and AIC.
Through the first period and midway through the second frame, ASU seemed to be in control. The Sun Devils led 4-1 thanks to goals from Fil Buncis, Demetrios Koumontzis, and two goals from Tyler Busch.
However, things took a turn late in the second period and the intensity on the ice only amplified from there. It all started with one sequence of events.
ASU junior forward Steen Pasichnuk was given a game misconduct after a boarding penalty, and AIC went to work on a five-minute major power play. Suddenly the Yellow Jackets got a jolt of energy. With a five-minute major, AIC got a goal from senior defenseman Ryan Polin. It was Polin’s first goal of the season and it cut the Sun Devil lead down to two with under five minutes remaining in the second.
Before the end of the frame, more extracurricular activities ensued after whistles, including a 10-man scrap and jousting match between both teams before the second intermission. Emotions ran high and it set the stage for what was to come in the third.
In that final frame, ASU committed multiple penalties and they found themselves in the sin bin. They committed nine penalties for nearly 30 minutes on Saturday. That allowed AIC to cut the lead to 4-3 on a Tobias Fladeby power play goal early in the third. Additionally, ASU missed a few great shorthanded opportunities to keep the game close.
“Our power play was good with timely goals,” AIC head coach Eric Lang said. “...Our guys were feeling it and I thought we went for it (down the stretch).”
With new life, things dwindled down to the 57-second mark with under a minute left in the third. Lang called a timeout to gather his troops.
AIC pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker. With a face-off to the left of ASU junior goaltender Joey Daccord, the Yellow Jackets won a big draw and worked the puck down to the goal line. On a set play off the draw, Fladeby was able to squeak home a puck near the goal mouth on a centering pass, tying the game at four to erase a previous three-goal deficit.
However, with all momentum shifted away from ASU going into overtime, the Sun Devils found a way to pull the game out. On a drive from the outside, junior defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk slung a pass to the slot for the freshman Marrocco, who tapped in the game-winner while driving hard to the net and going down to the ice. He was then mobbed by white sweaters behind the goal.
What went from a third period collapse turned into overtime euphoria. In a heated game on an emotional night, ASU got a huge series sweep, and according to a tweet from the USCHO, the win could have bigger implications.
@SunDevilHockey score in overtime to earn a 5-4 victory over @AIC_Hockey. It is win #21 on the season for ASU and, as far as our math can tell, should clinch the NCAA at-large berth for the Sun Devils. More to come.— USCHO.com (@USCHO) February 17, 2019
AIC competed and could have won either game in the two-game series. The Yellow Jackets’ effort was not understated in two performances where they fell just short. However, ASU found yet another way to win games, a trait that has defined them all season.
The Devils were 12-2 on home ice this season, and now its off to Minnesota to close out the regular season. With the sweep on Senior Night, it’s more than probable that ASU has all but punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. However, one more win or two against Minnesota in two weeks time couldn’t hurt the resume. In the meantime, Saturday was a celebration for the program’s founding fathers.
“They (the seniors) just continue to reinforce what we already know about them. They are a special group of kids with a ton of character,” Powers said. “The whole staff right now, we are passengers. That’s how you know you have something special is when you, as a coach, you just get out of the way. They are driving the bus and it has been a fun ride and we are not done.”