No. 12 Arizona State (17-9-3) scored the first three goals, never trailed, and went on to fend off Robert Morris (9-13-3) 3-2 on Friday night at Oceanside Ice Arena.
Junior forward Willie Knierim had two of ASU’s three goals, and with a strong start, the Sun Devils did what they needed to do in order to sustain the team’s sixth win in their last seven games.
“I thought the first period, we were really good, and the first half of the second period, we were probably even better,” said ASU head coach Greg Powers of his team’s performance. “We let them back into it...but we got through it and found a way to get a win.”
As Powers highlighted, the Sun Devils’ early push was the key to a game one victory. ASU came out of the gates with good energy, and that translated to the first goal of the game that came on a power play.
At the 10:15 mark, senior defenseman and captain Brinson Pasichnuk fired a slap shot on the power play with traffic in front of RMU senior goaltender Justin Capelmaster. He never saw the hard slapper, and it sailed right past him to make things 1-0.
It would be the start of a strong Sun Devil man advantage that came into play throughout the evening, as the special teams unit netted two out of the team’s three strikes.
“I thought the power play was really good,” Powers said. “It was a couple power play goals and some serious zone time. We could have had four or five and their goalie made some really big saves to hold them in it.”
The second power play goal came when Knierim redirected a shot from Pasichnuk from the point. The tip occurred as the 6-foot-4 Sun Devil forward had a man draped on him, and the puck changed direction as Capelmaster was tracking the shot.
After two periods @OceansideIce it’s @SunDevilHockey 3 and @RMUMHockey 1 We are on “Hatty Watch” for this week’s “Pitchfork Profile” @27WillieKnierim who scored twice in the second period! pic.twitter.com/5IRHJYESdW— College Hockey SW Weekly (@CollegeHockeySW) February 1, 2020
It was one of many times this season that the Miami Ohio transfer has registered a goal on a tip in front of a goaltender, and the big body continues to make his presence felt by screening the vision of opposing netminders.
“I just try to practice a lot throughout the week, but I have to give a hats off to Brinson and Manny (Josh Maniscalco) and Sanch (James Sanchez),” said Knierim of his net front presence. “They get pucks through on the power play a lot and when they are there, I’ll try to tip them.”
Powers touched on Knierim’s emerging presence as well, and how he has added a different dimension to this year’s lineup.
“He gives us an element that we just haven’t had here,” said Powers of Knierim. “It’s a big body that really relishes on being in the goalie’s eyes and making life difficult on him.”
Up 3-0 with just about 10 minutes left in the second period, ASU just seemed to need one knockout punch to try and put things away.
However, Robert Morris wasn’t going to let that happen. First, sophomore forward Nick Lalonde punched home a goal to make the score 3-1, and he later assisted on RMU’s second goal when he fed senior forward Luke Lynch in the third period.
Lynch beat ASU sophomore goaltender Evan DeBrouwer on a blocker side wrist shot, and that turned things into a one-goal game with just under eight minutes of crunch time.
Nevertheless, ASU would prevail, and DeBrouwer had a say in the victory. He made 31 saves on 33 shots, and came up with big stops down the stretch when his team needed him.
The effort helped close out another third period, which has been a vastly improving area since the beginning of the season for the Sun Devils.
“I think as a whole, the team has gotten better as the year has gone on,” said DeBrouwer of ASU’s third period closeouts. “It’s just getting more experience...We had that to draw back on tonight and had confidence.”
Ultimately, a strong start for ASU proved to be the difference despite a strong Colonial push down the stretch. With one victory in store, the Sun Devils will now go for two against RMU tomorrow night.
“We were pretty good tonight,” Powers said. “They pushed back and they are a good hockey team. They punched us right back in the face and they got off the mat, and that’s a huge credit to that team. It wasn’t anything really other than that, but with how we played in spurts tonight, you saw us at our very best but we have to sustain that and find a way to do it over 60 minutes.”