A series sweep slipped through through the finger tips of No. 20 Arizona State (3-3-1) on Friday night, as the Sun Devils gave up three goals with under 10 minutes remaining in the third period to let a two goal lead bounce away.
No. 16 Notre Dame (3-3) would skate away victorious with a 5-4 final. It would be a game full of offense, momentum swings, and even some controversy, but the Fighting Irish found a way to get the job done.
“Credit Notre Dame. They were really good in the third and they didn’t give up,” said coach Greg Powers. “...We were a couple shifts away from grinding the clock out, but it was a credit to them. They found a way.”
Up 4-2 entering the final 20 minutes, ASU was in a similar situation to its last three games all resulting in wins. The Sun Devils took the ice in the third period with a lead.
All they needed to do was manage the puck, roll their lines, shorten shifts, and the game would salt away.
As many hockey fans know though, that’s much easier said than done. As the old cliche goes, a two goal lead is the most dangerous. That proved true on Friday.
After a spotless 10 minutes, the Fighting Irish broke through with a goal from junior forward Jake Pivonka to trim the lead to one. It would cause controversy and a replay review.
On a loose rebound to the right of Sun Devil netminder Cole Brady, a shot was thrown at the net. Jousting for position in Brady’s crease were ASU defenseman Gvido Jansons and Fighting Irish forward Solag Bakich.
The puck died in the blue paint, and while Brady tried to reach across to grab the loose biscuit, he was impeded by the net front battle. He didn’t reach in time, as Pivonka came in to slam home the loose change.
The play was reviewed, but it was deemed that Jansons pushed Bakich into the crease. Thus, there was no goaltender interference.
It was clear that Jansons gave a shove into the goal mouth, but during his postgame media session, Powers wasn’t pleased with how long Bakich was in the crease.
After review for goaltender interference— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) December 5, 2020
4-3 Sun Devils pic.twitter.com/KJo7GbO7tI
Goalie interference from juniors all the way up to the NHL seems to have a lot of gray area, and often times it’s anyones guess for what the call may be.
It was called a goal on the ice and it’s a tough ruling, and although Jansons gave the shove, Powers had an argument as well. Here were his thoughts:
“I know they think Gvido pushed him into him, but you can’t just camp out in the crease. You have to get out,” Powers said. “He didn’t. He just stood there and it impeded Cole’s ability to fight to make the save. I’ll go to to my grave thinking that shouldn’t have been counted.”
The goal fueled the rest of Notre Dame’s comeback. Bakich tied the game minutes later, then defenseman Nick Leivermann put the dagger in ASU’s hearts with five seconds remaining.
Both the tying, and game-winning goals came on shots that squeaked just under the blocker of Brady, giving the Fighting Irish the triumphant comeback and a sour taste in the Sun Devils’ mouths as they were just minutes from back-to-back sweeps.
On Leivermann’s game-winner, the play was reviewed for offsides, but once again it came to no avail. Nevertheless, Powers still didn’t shoulder the game on officiating. Notre Dame earned it.
“I told the guys, reviews or no reviews, we lost that game because we stopped doing what was working for us and stopped skating,” Powers said. “We let them back in the game and that’s on us.”
The let down took away from what had occurred in the 50 minutes prior. After trailing 2-0 in the first period, ASU rallied back for four straight goals, including two more tallies from freshman forward Matthew Kopperud.
He has six goals in his last four games, including back-to-back two goal games. He’s now tied for the most goals in college hockey.
“I’m playing with a lot more confidence now,” said Kopperud of his goal streak and success, “but playing with Komo (Demetrios Koumontzis) and Sandy (Jordan Sandhu) is a big factor with how smart they both are, how hard Sandy works, and how smart Komo is.”
With this goal, his second of the night, @kopper303 is now tied for the most goals in the country with six. He leads all freshman in scoring. #RoadWarriors // #BeTheTradition pic.twitter.com/r3Z48bh8qv— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) December 5, 2020
The Sun Devils also played their best period of the season in the second frame against Notre Dame, dominating puck possession and hemming the Fighting Irish in their own zone.
It led to three goals, with two from Kopperud and one from fellow freshman Ryan O’Reilly.
“That was a clinic. That was really fun to watch,” said Powers of the second period. “You could see how good we can be. We got a long way to go, but that’s a shining example of what we’re capable of.”
Ultimately, it would be a tale of two periods. After dominating the second, Notre Dame had the last laugh in the third period, flipping the script of how they got outplayed a period prior.
The Fighting Irish avoided the sweep, and although ASU played well enough to take both games, it was left with a tough loss and a long trip to Happy Valley for a series with Penn State next weekend.
“That’s still a hell of a split against a very good hockey team,” Powers said. “It’s just the nature of how we didn’t get a sweep, it hurts. That’s what I told the guys. This has to be a loss that we learn from, not a loss that sets us back.”