Arizona State (4-6-2) picked up a big win before the Christmas holiday break by fending off No. 18 Ohio State (3-6-1) 3-2 on Friday night in Columbus.
It was a great way to cap off a 36-day road trek as the team now returns to Tempe for a couple of weeks.
“It just goes to show the character that we have in the room,” said ASU defenseman Jacob Wilson, who scored his first goal of the season on Friday night. “Everybody’s contributing every night and there’s no let up in our game. Everybody’s holding each other accountable and playing their role, and it’s awesome to see and be a part of.”
After a hard-fought tie the night prior, ASU came back and put forth a full effort in game two. The Sun Devils trailed after the first period, but forward Matthew Kopperud knotted things up in the second on the power play with his team-leading seventh goal.
ASU got a little bit of a break on the play, as forward James Sanchez appeared to possibly trip an Ohio State defenseman while retrieving a puck. No whistle was blown, however, and Sanchez took advantage. He rifled a pass to Kopperud.
From the right circle, he sniped a shot past Ohio State goaltender Tommy Nappier. The Ohio State coaching staff was furious, but the goal counted and tied the hockey game.
“I went two games without scoring so I just knew I just had to keep on getting my shots through to the net,” Kopperud said of his goal. “Sanch (Sanchez) gave me a nice pass and I made sure to get it on net. It worked out.”
For Ohio State, the possible missed call evened out however, with the Buckeyes responding less than a minute later with a goal off the stick of Matt Cassidy.
Once again, ASU needed to rally, and they responded with Wilson’s goal as he flung a shot into traffic toward Nappier that squeaked in. Then with the game back even, the Sun Devils got their big break.
With forward Sean Dhooghe behind the play as a puck was being battled for in the corner boards, Dhooghe was part of an open ice collision with Ohio State forward Gustaf Westlund and fell to the ground. The Sun Devil bench wasn’t happy with the hit.
Whether it was intended or accidental, Westlund’s elbow caught Dhooghe up high and the puck was not in the area.
Although there was no call on the ice, the officials reviewed the play and deemed that Westlund had contact to the head.
He was given a five-minute major and game misconduct. ASU needed to pounce on the glorious opportunity as Dhooghe hobbled off the ice and to the dressing room (he returned for the third period).
“I saw him on the ice and when you see a guy down like that and they play it under review, you know it’s going to be big,” Kopperud said.
The Devils proceeded to cash in with their second power play goal. In the final minute of the second period, Jack Judson, Tanner Hickey, and Demetrios Koumontzis had a tic-tac-toe one-timer that was capped off with a shot from Judson to give ASU its first lead of the night.
For an ASU power play that had struggled mightily throughout much of its first portion of the season, the two power play goals were a welcomed sight. The team also had a third period penalty kill, and special teams was critical in the victory.
“For our power play to get two big ones tonight, they really needed it,” said head coach Greg Powers. “Everybody knows they just haven’t been finding the back of the net and for our power play to win us this game tonight and our kill to really do a great job...our special teams won us the game.”
In the third period, ASU then locked down to close out the road trip. The group didn’t allow any Buckeye shots on goal in the final few minutes, and skated off victorious.
Based on how the year started at 0-3-1, and some of the late-game defeats that ASU has sustained in recent weeks, Friday’s strong finish to the road venture ended on a high note.
More importantly, it put the Sun Devils in position to try and make a stretch run in the second half of the year with veteran forward and captain Johnny Walker likely to return in the New Year.
It was a testament to Powers’ group and the challenges that they have faced in stride.
“It would have been really easy for the guys to pack it in after that heartbreaker to Notre Dame and those two three-on-three overtimes (losses against Penn State),” Powers said, “and they didn’t do it. We got a good team here.”
-The second half of ASU’s hockey schedule was released this afternoon. The Sun Devils start off the New Year with the only Big Ten opponent they haven’t faced yet. Their first series of 2021 will be at No. 1 Minnesota, who is a perfect 8-0 and has not trailed once this year.
-Over 36 days, the team did not receive a single positive COVID-19 test on the road trip - a testament to the Sun Devils’ buy-in and how well their road trip worked out regardless of wins and losses.
“We did this to create a safe bubble so our guys could play and it worked. I’m glad it worked because it makes me look pretty smart and it’s hard to do that,” Powers joked.