A matter of eight minutes in the second period proved to be costly for Arizona State (4-7-2) on Sunday afternoon, as the Sun Devils fell 4-1 at the hands of No. 1 Minnesota (9-0).
With ASU leading 1-0 after 20 minutes, the Golden Gophers struck three times in the first eight minutes of the second frame to give them a 3-1 advantage. A few turnovers and loose rebounds were all that Minnesota needed to capitalize.
“They are a good team,” said head coach Greg Powers of Minnesota’s second period barrage. “They came out in the second period and played like we expected in the second, and that’s where they won the game.”
During that span, the Golden Gophers got goals from Mike Koster, Jonny Sorenson, and Sampo Ranta.
Savage Sampo, savage. pic.twitter.com/N4gZEkMhix— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 3, 2021
The sequence would be the turning point for a Minnesota squad that locked down the rest of the way and hasn’t given up more than two goals all season.
ASU generated opportunities and scoring chances in the third period, but the Golden Gopher defense and the goaltending of Jack LaFontaine held down the fort. LaFontaine finished with 27 saves on 28 shots.
“I thought we played really well. Minus the five minutes and even in the third, I thought we were controlling the puck, play, and pushing to get it within one,” Powers said. “Their goalie played tremendous and he made some really big saves. That’s a huge credit to him. We knew how good he was playing and how good he is, and we saw that first-hand tonight.”
Early on, the Sun Devils scored on a power play goal in the first period from freshman forward Matthew Kopperud, who slid a shot past LaFontaine in front of net.
Nevertheless, the short Minnesota onslaught ensued in the second, but the Sun Devils settled in the rest of the way.
Their penalty kill was also flawless, holding a lethal Golden Gophers power play scoreless on the man advantage throughout the day, even as they had a five-minute power play after a game misconduct penalty was assessed to defenseman Gvido Jansons in the third period.
This was reviewed and changed to a 5-minute major and game misconduct... pic.twitter.com/Grl9ZzfJL9— Mitchell Terrell (@Mitch_Terrell) January 3, 2021
Although Minnesota didn’t score during that time, the five minutes melted down the clock for the Golden Gophers and made the challenge of an ASU comeback that much more difficult. Powers shared his frustration with the call.
“Gvido got five minutes for love-tapping their player,” Powers said with a shrug. “They (the referees) said that they have to protect the player and I said that’s a love tap. That one will baffle me for the rest of my time as a hockey coach.”
Near the end of the third, Ranta scored his second goal of the game, and that would be the dagger.
Ultimately, the Sun Devils skated and competed with the No. 1 team in the country, but the Golden Gophers took advantage of their opportunities and locked down ASU down the home stretch.
“It was a winnable game...That’s what’s frustrating,” Powers said. “But at the end of the day, they put more pucks in the net than us. We know we have to be better and not have a five-minute stretch where they made us pay. We have to eliminate that tomorrow if we expect to get out of here with a split.”
-Johnny Walker returned to the ice for the first time since early November on Sunday. He was limited in his action, and had only two days on the ice in practice prior to his return. Walker discussed how it felt to get back.
“After tonight, I’d say I am 100 percent,” Walker said. “There was a little bit of a feeling out process at the beginning and nerves, but after I got in the flow of it, I didn’t notice my knee at all and felt right back in it.”
-Other injuries. Prior to Sunday’s puck drop, Greg Cameron of College Hockey News reported that forward Willie Knierim is going to miss an extended amount of time (6-8 weeks) due to an injury. Forward Demetrios Koumontzis was also out, but is expected to return for Wisconsin in a couple weeks.
Arizona State F Johnny Walker will be the Sun Devils' extra forward today - his first game since Nov. 15. Told F Willie Knierim (undisclosed) is out 6-8 weeks, and F Demetrios Koumontzis (undisclosed) is likely to return for the Wisconsin series in two weeks. Lines ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/cRBc73b6kM— Greg Cameron (@gregdcam) January 3, 2021
-Although ASU fell on Sunday, the Sun Devils did something that no other team has done against Minnesota this season. The Golden Gophers surrendered their first power play goal all season, and trailed for the first time all year with the goal from Kopperud in the first.