Arizona State hockey’s (1-0-0) return to Oceanside Ice Arena was an unqualified success, as the Sun Devils won their first home game in 19 months by a score of 5-3 over the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks (0-1-0). ASU senior forward Jack Becker scored the game-winning goal with 3:36 remaining in the third period.
While the Sun Devils managed to carve out a victory, they struggled to generate offense of any kind for most of the first two periods. Fortunately, ASU’s guests were feeling generous, as UMass-Lowell’s frequent penalties shifted momentum in the Sun Devils’ favor, allowing them to fight their way back into the game.
The most egregious of these penalties occurred with five minutes remaining in regulation, when UMass-Lowell’s Andre Lee received a game misconduct for a high hit on ASU senior forward Demetrios Koumontzis. That allowed Becker to score the game-winner on the ensuing five-minute power play.
“When you can beat a team like Lowell and not play your best, I think that’s a sign that you’re a good team,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “They’re really hard to play against and they showed it tonight.”
UMass-Lowell had the edge from the game’s opening faceoff and quickly grabbed the lead on a Stefan Owens tap-in 58 seconds into the first period. The contest’s first five shots belonged to the Riverhawks, and the visitors might have managed to completely take control of the game if not for an offensive zone penalty against Riverhawks forward Brian Chambers. Arizona State wasted no time converting on the ensuing power play, as sophomore forward Matthew Kopperud blasted a one-timer past UMass-Lowell goaltender Henry Welsch to even the mark at one.
Once 5-on-5 play resumed, however, the Riverhawks continued to pin the Sun Devils in their own end, frequently testing ASU senior goaltender Ben Kraws. The Sun Devils received a golden opportunity to pull ahead, as an elbowing penalty against Riverhawks captain Lucas Condotta threatened to swing momentum in favor of the home team, but UMass-Lowell’s Reid Stefanson responded with a shorthanded breakaway goal to regain the lead. The Riverhawks continued their assault until the end of the period, at which point they led 13-6 in shots on goal.
ASU came out sluggish once again at the start of the second period, waiting until the eight-minute mark to hit UMass Lowell’s net for the first time. Shortly afterward, freshman forward Jack Jensen snuck a shot underneath Welsch’s arm to tie the game at two after linemate Michael Mancinelli forced a turnover at center ice. ASU’s momentum was short-lived, though, as Kopperud took a retalitory high-sticking penalty that sent the Riverhawks back to the power play. Initially, it looked as though the Sun Devils would escape harm, but UMass-Lowell was awarded a goal after it was determined that a shot from Stefanson crossed the goal line.
It appeared as though UMass-Lowell had begun to pull away, but a too-many-men penalty shortly after the goal put ASU back on the power play with a chance to equalize. Kopperud atoned for his prior mistake with another perfectly placed one-timer from the right circle to pull the Sun Devils even once again, and the game remained tied heading into intermission. Despite the late surge, UMass-Lowell outshot ASU 14-6 in the second period, and Kraws bailed his team out more than once during the Riverhawks’ forays into the ASU zone.
“Ben just competes,” Powers said. “The kid just works and battles. He’s big, he’s athletic and he had a nice game.”
The game slowed to a crawl at the start of the third period, but ASU began to show more and more signs of life as the seconds and minutes moved by. Sporadic chances were exchanged by both teams, but the play was largely uneventful until Lee caught Koumontzis with a high open-ice hit at the UMass-Lowell blue line. Lee received a match penalty and the Sun Devils scored two quick goals to seal the victory.
Though ASU’s performance was far from perfect, many of its shortcomings can simply be attributed to normal season-opening hiccups. The two teams will meet again Sunday at 4:05 MST, and Powers said he expects a cleaner, more consistent showing from his group. The Sun Devils have many areas to improve on heading into game two, but their bid to retire their home arena with a winning season seems to be off to a good start.
“We owe who we are to this place,” Powers said. “We have 19 (games) left here and we have to protect our home ice and give this place back what it’s given us.”