Nearly two years ago, the Arizona State hockey program picked up a monster win in Las Vegas.
It was only the team’s sixth victory in an eight-win season, but it came under a spotlight. It was validation to the college hockey world that they belonged in their second full season at the Division I level.
ASU had defeated Michigan Tech by one goal to earn a championship trophy in the Ice Vegas Invitational at T-Mobile Arena.
“That is honestly one of my best college hockey memories,” said ASU senior defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk, who was a sophomore when they took home the championship. “It was just such a fun weekend. I think for the first time in the program, we started to click. It just showed that it was our second year at Division I and we won our first tournament. That was huge for us.”
Pasichnuk scored two goals, including the game-winner in that contest, as he tallied the third strike to give them a 3-0 advantage before having to fend off a relentless Michigan Tech squad down the stretch in a 3-2 final.
Then freshman forward Johnny Walker also had a goal as he put home a quick wrist shot in the second period. That game served as a stepping stone for Walker, who has turned into one of the top goal-scorers in college hockey.
“I was trying to learn and that was about this time my freshman year,” Walker said. “I was just trying to take in a lot, and now two years later, I am done sitting by and learning. It’s time to take the ropes and do it yourself and be a leader.”
Indeed, that is what Walker and Pasichnuk have both done as upperclassmen leaders this season. But looking back on the win against Michigan Tech in Vegas, it wasn’t the only time that the Sun Devils had a highly-contested affair with the Huskies.
Vegas was just the start. ASU later went up north to take on Michigan Tech the next month in February, and it would be quite the battle.
In the first game, the Sun Devils won by a final of 2-1 on an overtime winner. Then in game two, ASU fell 5-3 after a third period let down. However, after the game is where things got stirred up.
An all out bench brawl took place at the conclusion of the game. In a video that surfaced from the stands, the quarrel was shown.
Walker discussed the extracurriculars leading up to the exchange on the popular hockey podcast, ‘Spittin Chiclets’ (minute 35 in the pod), and Pasichnuk detailed his view of the scene earlier this week.
“Honestly, I just remember shaking hands and then somewhere in the line, someone in the line said something to someone,” said Pasichnuk with a chuckle. “Coaches came out at each other, and it was just a little bit of a scrum. I think the video made it look worst than it actually was. It was fun.”
Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan had a similar thought as Pasichnuk when he spoke during his postgame media session after that game as well.
“It looked a lot worst than what it was,” said Shawhan after the game on Feb. 17, 2018. “I was just going across the ice to talk to their coaches about the stuff that went on at the end. It was nothing meant by it. I was going across to talk to them. It was just the heat of the battle. It was nothing intended or nothing implied. It must have looked a lot worst than it felt from where I was.”
Now two years later, the programs will meet once more. They are two teams at two different stages. Different faces, and different identities compared to who they were during the 2017-18 season.
However, this weekend’s Saturday and Sunday series at Oceanside can expect to have a different sort of flare. Both sides are hard, heavy, and they aren’t going to back down. They both play a physical brand, and it’s to be expected heading into the weekend.
“It’s going to be a hard game. Two physical teams, that’s for sure,” said junior defenseman Jacob Wilson, who scored ASU’s OT game-winner against the Huskies up in Michigan as a freshman. “Especially playing in Oceanside and having everybody packed on top of you, It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s fun to be a part of. The intensity is there...It’s just a feeling in the room when everyone is contributing and playing hard. This is a team that we want to beat.”
The water is under the bridge, but the temperature levels could rise on any given shift. And according to Walker and company, that’s something they are just fine with.
“We want that intensity and it’s good for college hockey to have that in your face, toe-to-toe kind of thing. I enjoyed it (two years ago) but now, I am looking forward to this weekend and moving on from all of that and focus on what we have now,” Walker said. “That’s part of the game and learning to hate your opponent. I think that there’s plenty of that, and I think it’s good.”