Behind the first two goals of Jax Murray’s collegiate career, Arizona State (2-3-1) completed the series sweep of No. 14 Wisconsin (4-4) in Madison by a final of 3-1 on Sunday.
ASU came out with similar energy and jump that the group had the night prior, and that led to a 2-0 advantage in the first period.
The Sun Devils carried the momentum throughout the game and clamped down on the Badgers in the final 20 minutes to close out a solid showing.
“Hopefully this charges the course for the rest of our season,” Powers said of the two victories. “We love our team. We have a very good hockey team and this result does not surprise us. It’s more of what we expect to come and it’s a step in the right direction.”
As noted above, Murray accounted for two of ASU’s goals, but the first strike came from freshman Matthew Kopperud.
A former Dubuque Fighting Saint in the United States Hockey League (USHL), Kopperud used a Wisconsin defender as a screen, then fired a wrist shot that ricocheted off a stick, a leg, and past the blocker of Badger starting netminder Robbie Beydoun.
Through six games, the first-year player has seemed to find his legs every shift and minute that he’s out on the ice.
“The first couple of games from juniors to here was a big jump,” Kopperud said. “But being able to get my first one yesterday was kind of just a relief and now I can just go out and play.”
As a whole, Powers raved about the progress he’s seen from his freshmen forwards over the last few weeks, including Kopperud, Michael Mancinelli, Benji Eckerle, and Ryan O’Reilly.
Coming in as a top-five recruiting class, Kopperud currently leads all Sun Devils in points with five, while Eckerle and O’Reilly have three points as well. With every game, the group has seemed to improve.
“All of the freshmen have been great,” Powers said. “...Mancinelli’s been our best guy on face-offs as a freshman, O’Reilly’s getting a ton of chances and opening things up and he’s a threat. He does things, that in the infancy of our program, we haven’t had kids that have had the ability to do the things that he does.
And then the other kid that’s just been lights out is Benji Eckerle. He’s a horse and he’s a kid, as a freshman, that I trust in every situation to close out games and kill in big moments. His habits are so good. All four have been very good for us.”
Aside from that core four though, it was a sophomore who took the spotlight in Sunday’s game. Murray lit the lamp on ASU’s second and third goals, helping to secure the victory.
It was a great moment for the Minnesota native, who appeared in and out of the lineup very briefly last season, playing in only four games.
Murray suffered a shoulder injury during his time in juniors with the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) Fairbanks Ice Dogs, and he was working through much of the recovery process in his freshman season after going through surgery in 2019. Now fully recovered, he looked back on the process after his two-goal outburst.
“It was a long road,” Murray said. “It was an eight month recovery that went into the beginning part of my freshman season. It wasn’t the best and not a lot of fun, but Liane Blyn (ASU’s head of sports performance) worked hard on getting the strength up and we worked really hard. Eventually I just started getting more confidence over time and now I’ve found a way to get into the lineup and hopefully we are running and gunning from here.”
Murray was a major bright spot in the Sun Devil victory, as was goaltender Evan DeBrouwer. After getting roughed up at No. 4 Michigan to start the year, DeBrouwer settled in at Michigan State last weekend, before putting forth his best showing on Sunday against the Badgers.
He made 28 saves and had nothing to do with Wisconsin’s lone goal, which came on a fluky bounce in which forward Sean Dhooghe was trying to break out the puck from behind DeBrouwer’s net. It kicked off a skate and slid in the goal.
Other than that though, DeBrouwer was spotless, making a variety of big saves, including a point blank save off Wisconsin forward Sam Stange.
Powers praised both DeBrouwer and freshman Cole Brady this weekend, and said the battle for the net has only increased between the duo.
After being put in a bad position and being winless through four games, the Sun Devils are now only one game from getting back to .500. Similar to how the group got off to a slow start last year when it was 1-3, ASU is trying to claw itself out of a hole. They reflected on the experience and are trying not to look back from here on out.
Although Wisconsin was shorthanded this weekend, Powers was still pleased with how his group performed given how the first couple of weeks had gone.
“That’s a really good team. I know they had some guys out but their second line is two fourth-rounders and a fifth-rounder (draft pick) on it,” Powers said. “They are still really good. That’s a legitimate sweep right there and I’m really proud of our guys. I would think that’s pretty safe to say that’s our best road sweep as a program against a team that talented and a blue blood program like Wisconsin.”
-Johnny Walker was known to be out going into this weekend and listed as “series-to-series”, but midway through Sunday’s matchup, forward Demetrios Koumontzis disappeared. He had two goals in Saturday’s win, but left midway through the game on Sunday with the Badgers.
Powers noted that he went out with a lower body injury, but he should be okay and it was nothing long-term or serious.