Despite a strong third period push from Michigan Tech (12-9-1), No. 17 Arizona State (11-7-3) fended off the Huskies by one goal on Saturday night by a final of 4-3 at Oceanside Arena.
Although a win is normally a cause for celebration, it didn’t seem that way in the Sun Devils’ postgame press conference, and that’s because of what occurred in the third period.
In control and holding a 3-0 lead, ASU allowed three third period goals, and they were saved by a game-winning goal from junior forward Fil Buncis on a shot from a bad angle when the score sat at 3-1. Buncis marker made the score 4-1, and it seemed the Sun Devils just needed to shut things down and play tight-knit hockey.
However, that was easier said than done.
“I thought we played two and a half hard periods of good, clean hockey,” said ASU head coach Greg Powers. “I told the guys after the game, I am not happy...You got to put together 60 minutes. That felt like a game that we were in complete control of, we make a couple soft plays in our end, and we can’t give a team like that any hope.”
Powers was stern when making the remarks, and it was evident that he wasn’t pleased with how his team closed things out.
Before that third period let down, ASU had otherwise played one of its cleanest games of the year. They had limited grade-A scoring chances, and on the flip side, the Sun Devils had three goals on seven shots, with points going out to seven different players on the goals.
“There’s a lot of positives tonight. For two and a half periods, there was a lot of really good hockey by our guys,” Powers said.
The goals came from different areas, but one of the constants was the second line of sophomore forward PJ Marrocco, redshirt sophomore forward Austin Lemieux, and Buncis.
The trio was put together last Sunday against Harvard, and they picked up right where they left off last weekend, generating a variety of scoring chances and working down low on cycles to wear down the Michigan Tech defense.
“They are the reason why we came back and tied Harvard, and tonight, they are the reason we won this game,” said Powers of the line. “I thought every line did something well, but these guys are playing 90 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone. They compliment each other very well.”
Marrocco scored the second ASU goal on a feed from Lemieux, and it was evident that the group had things going from the get-go.
Additionally, Buncis’ third period goal was the difference, and he scored it just after Michigan Tech had cut the lead down to two goals at 3-1.
“I’m playing with two great players so far, and they have really been helping me out,” said Marrocco of his linemates. “It’s just working hard every day, and good things will happen.”
Buncis discussed his game, and his goal as well.
“It was just a lucky play,” said Buncis of the goal. “PJ heard me and I was telling him to get it (the puck) deep...Their defense and goalie wasn’t ready, and I just put it on net.”
Latvians are good with angles. pic.twitter.com/5LPqDEm7gZ— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) January 5, 2020
The play ended up being the difference. Down 4-1, Michigan Tech put home two goals to make things a one-goal game with under three minutes remaining, but the Devils were able to hold on.
In net, sophomore goaltender Evan DeBrouwer made 19 saves on 22 shots on an evening where he wasn’t tested too often.
As for the other goal culprits, junior forward Willie Knierim kicked off the scoring just four minutes and 42 seconds into the opening frame, and sophomore forward Jordan Sandhu had a second period goal on a wrister from the right circle.
Ultimately, it would be enough. ASU played a clean game, but they played with fire in the third period and nearly got burned.
At this point of the season, Powers and the coaching staff feels that there’s no excuse for that type of one-goal closeout on home ice, especially when the team had been in control for more than half the game.
Going into Sunday, ASU will look to avenge the sloppy final 20 minutes on Saturday.
“The guys got to play a full 60 tomorrow. It’s cliche, and they hear me say it all the time, but it’s time. It’s time for them to do it and finish a game,” Powers said. “We are in January. We have to finish games and we have to finish teams off. When you are at home, you should be licking your chops.”