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ASU Hockey: Kopperud buries two goals, Sun Devils split at No. 18 Notre Dame

Kopper the Fighting Irish killer

Photo courtesy: Mike Miller/Notre Dame Athletics

Behind two goals from freshman Matthew Kopperud and the first win of goaltender Justin Robbins’ collegiate career, Arizona State (5-9-1) earned a series split at No. 18 Notre Dame (5-6-1).

The Sun Devils relied on third period power play goals, and unlike last night, tightened things up in the defensive zone to secure a 5-3 victory.

“From a defensive standpoint, we were really good and we were blocking shots and eating tons of pucks,” said head coach Greg Powers. “There was a lot of urgency defensively, and we really closed them out and didn’t give them much time and space.”

On the back end, Robbins was also up to the task, providing tight rebound control and making 26 saves to earn his first win in his first start.

Standing at 5-foot-9 in net, ASU goaltending coach Eddie Lack has raved in the past about how fundamentally sound Robbins is.

Unfortunately though, the sophomore puck-stopper had a tough go of things last year, suffering a freak, season-ending injury at the beginning of last season when during pregame warm-ups prior to a game at Oceanside, the bench door was slammed on his finger.

A major laceration caused him to lose part of the finger, and it was a long recovery process to get back. However, with Cole Brady not on ASU’s road trip due to a case of mono, Robbins got the nod in goal in game two and didn’t disappoint.

He was swarmed after the game by teammates, and earned the Player of the Game pitchfork afterwards in the dressing room.

“Robbie’s (Robbins) an A-plus teammate,” said ASU senior forward and captain Johnny Walker. “To come in relief in tough games like he has to battling everyday in practice and dealing with that freak injury, nothing makes me happier than to help him get his first win. We all bought in and I think the consensus was to do it for him tonight. Next man up mentality, and he stepped up.”

Robbins reflected on his satisfaction and mindset after the game as well.

“It’s been over a year since I played in a hockey game so I just tried to get settle in, get in a rhythm, and the boys did a great job letting me get comfortable,” Robbins said. “It’s the same game, you just play. It was one shot at a time, be in the moment, don’t worry about what’s already happened or what’s going to happen, and play in the moment and compete.”

Aside from Robbins’ steady goaltending, the ASU offense was also fueled by familiar goal-scoring culprits - Walker and Kopperud.

With the Sun Devils up 2-1 in the third period, Walker pulled off his second highlight-reel goal of the week, executing a silky pull and drag move around a Notre Dame defenseman before tucking it home to give ASU a big insurance goal.

The play began with a keep in by forward Chris Grando, who held the blue line and intercepted a Fighting Irish clearing attempt.

He then dropped the puck down to Walker, who proceeded to do the rest. It was part of a three-point night for the captain, who now has 103 career points.

According to Walker, one of the reasons behind Sunday’s success was what happened before the puck even dropped. The team received an earful during its pregame meal, then the group had a team meeting amidst a three-game losing streak.

“I talked to the boys and just said it’s up to us. In this room, we have what it takes and it has to come from within. We got a pretty good licking today at pregame meal and I think it was well-deserved,” Walker said. “We basically said we can sit there and feel sorry for yourself or respond. Everyone bought in and responded terrific.”

After Walker’s third period dangle and goal, Notre Dame responded with a strike of its own to make the score 3-2. However, the daggers to fend off the Fighting Irish came on two power play goals from Kopperud during a five-minute major power play.

The man-advantage stemmed from a play involving ASU defenseman Jacob Wilson, who was dropped on a hit behind his own net while trying to make a pass up the boards. He was face down on the ice for a few seconds before being helped off.

Notre Dame forward Colin Theisen was assessed a game misconduct for the check, and the Sun Devils took advantage. Kopperud lit the lamp twice, giving ASU five goals and a three-goal lead.

It also marked an impressive feat for Kopperud, who recorded his seventh and eighth goals of the season against Notre Dame. Of his 12 goals this year, eight have come in South Bend. He gave a humorous postgame explanation of his magic against the Irish.

“I think It’s got to be this building or something,” Kopperud said with a smile. “My stick just likes this building.”

After the game, Powers noted that Wilson was doing alright, and he would be re-evaluated on Monday.

Ultimately after a tough start to the weekend, the Sun Devils finished strong, picking up their fifth win of the season as they try to make a stretch run down the back half of this 2020 schedule.

“Last night was a winnable game and we were right there,” Powers said, “and for the guys to come out, it was will tonight. Our guys had the will to get it done and pay the price in every area to get us a win.”