It was a better performance than Friday’s game, but it still wasn’t enough for No. 12 Arizona State (21-12-1), as they fell to Minnesota (16-15-4) by a final of 5-2 at Mariucci Arena.
Sophomore forward Johnny Walker was not in the lineup for the second consecutive game with an undisclosed injury, and it couldn’t have been a more disastrous start for the Devils’ on Minnesota’s senior night. The Golden Gophers lit the lamp 42 seconds into the first period on a one-timer from senior forward Jack Ramsey.
They added two more goals in the frame and after one period, ASU was being outshot 15-3. The first part of the second period started the same way. It seemed that Minnesota had not let off the gas pedal from the night prior.
Then one sequence seemed to settle ASU down. The sequence and the play resulted in a Minnesota goal and a 4-0 advantage, but it might have lit a fire under the Sun Devil bench.
On a 3-on-2 rush for Minnesota, a cross ice pass was slung out wide from the the right to left side. In the center lane was Golden Gopher freshman forward Sampo Ranta. Stepping up on the play while the pass was gliding cross ice, and as the puck went past Ranta, ASU sophomore defenseman Jacob Wilson elevated to drop a huge open ice hit on Ranta.
With Wilson taking himself out of the play, Minnesota sophomore forward Brannon McManus proceeded to walk in and slide a puck past junior goaltender Joey Daccord. The strike resulted in a 4-0 Minnesota lead, but the concern for the Golden Gophers was Ranta. He was down on the ice and received attention from his teammates.
Meanwhile, Wilson was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the hit. Up 4-0, Minnesota was to go on a 5-minute man advantage. This would look like the lights out punch in a game where the Sun Devils were already down. However, with their backs against the wall, the team responded.
Junior forward Dom Garcia added a shorthanded goal during the five-minute penalty and a lethal Golden Gophers power play did not score. Later in the frame, junior forward Brett Gruber tapped home a goal on a rebound attempt as he was parked to the side of the net.
It seemed that ASU had new life, but due to a an early hole that they dug, the deficit was too insurmountable in the third period. In the final 20 minutes, the Devils pressured and shortened up the shot counter but it was too little, too late. The final shots were 31-22 in favor of Minnesota.
There was a big opportunity to cut into the 4-2 lead late in the third when Minnesota was assessed a slashing penalty, but three consecutive turnovers that turned into breakaways allowed Minnesota to make the final 5-2. Daccord did his best to give his team a chance, making two great saves on the first two breakaways, but the third time was the charm.
The opportunities were indicative of the game itself in a wide open affair with various miscues down the stretch.
Altogether, the early onslaught was too much. Minnesota skated away victorious in a game where they played more than well enough to earn a victory. ASU ended the regular season at 21-11-1, which would seem good enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
However, there is still a sliver of a chance that they could fall out. At No. 12 in the nation and No. 8 in the Pairwise Rankings, they sit in a good position but will be left in the uneasy position of watching other conference tournaments and games until Selection Sunday on March 24.
The hope for the Devils is that there are no upsets in the conference tourneys to enhance their postseason aspirations.
Regardless of what happens, ASU still sits in a favorable position compared to a lot of teams at this time of year. The program is way ahead of schedule in just their fourth season of Division I existence.
There is cause for concern after a weekend sweep to end the season and and the foreseeable future of Walker depending on what the extent of his injury is. Either way, ask any player or coach if they’d take being nine games over .500 and in prime position to make the tournament at the end of the season, and they’d probably have no issues with that.
Will college hockey history be made, and will the Sun Devils skate off to the Big Dance? Now the waiting game begins.