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ASU Hockey: UMass-Lowell hands Sun Devils first loss of season

Teams split series

Zac BonDurant

The Arizona State Sun Devils (1-1) suffered their first loss of the 2021-22 season at the hands of the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks (1-1) by a score of 4-2 in the second leg of the teams’ season-opening series. ASU found themselves down early in the game thanks to a pair of costly penalties, and had to play catch up for the rest of the evening.

“We dug a hole,” coach Greg Powers said. “We certainly didn’t lose this game because of officiating or calls. We lost it because we got off to another start where we dug a hole and we just couldn’t quite get out of it.”

ASU was the beneficiary of several undisciplined penalties by UMass-Lowell in game one, and the Sun Devils seemed eager to return the favor in Sunday’s contest. A Josh Doan elbow two minutes into the game led to a Brian Chambers power-play marker. He was able to glide through the crease untouched and deposit the puck past Ben Kraws’ outstretched left pad. ASU fought back following the goal, but UMass-Lowell prevented the Sun Devils from generating many high-danger shots.

As Arizona State continued to press, the play became increasingly more physical. The teams traded heavy hits for much of the second half of the period. ASU freshman forward Jack Jensen drove Ben Meehan face-first into the side boards, resulting in a match penalty. UMass-Lowell’s Matt Crasa scored early in the power play on a scramble in front of the ASU net, but Kraws was able to prevent any further damage and kept the Sun Devils afloat for the remainder of the period.

ASU managed to regroup during the intermission and controlled play for much of the second period. The Sun Devils came up empty-handed on two separate power play opportunities, but Matthew Kopperud managed to get them on the board shortly afterwards, fooling Savory with a tactful forehand-backhand deke and swiftly depositing the puck into the open net. Kopperud’s goal gave the Sun Devils life, but they would fail to score again before the end of the period and entered the final twenty minutes down by a goal.

UMass-Lowell largely held the Sun Devils at bay during the early stages of the third period, but the Riverhawks nearly let the game slip away from them when Meehan stepped up and unloaded a massive hit on Michael Mancinelli and received a match penalty of his own.

The situation brought back memories of Andre Lee’s game-losing major penalty the previous night, and for a short time it seemed as though history might repeat itself. ASU senior forward Jack Becker scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game at 2-2, but UMass-Lowell quickly managed to regain the lead, when a long snap shot from freshman forward Matt Crasa eluded Kraws’ blocker and found the back of the net.

“That goal just took the wind out of us,” Powers said. “You could feel it. It just gave [UMass-Lowell] all the momentum.”

ASU never regained their composure after Crasa’s go-ahead tally, and the Sun Devils found themselves hemmed in their own zone for most of the remaining four minutes. They finally managed to pull Kraws for an extra skater with 1:16 to play, but quickly conceded an empty net goal when the puck jumped over defenseman Tim Lovell’s stick at the offensive blue line, resulting in a breakaway for UMass-Lowell junior forward Zach Kaiser.

Although Sunday’s result ended the Sun Devils’ ambitions of starting the year with a series sweep, they will have an opportunity to redeem themselves in a road series with the Denver Pioneers on Oct. 8 and 9. ASU’s performance against UMass-Lowell did expose some of its imperfections, but the Sun Devils’ skill was also on full display, and the team should be in for a very respectable season if it is able to avoid the costly penalties and slow starts that sank them in Sunday’s game.

“We hate losing at home,” Powers said. “But this series made us better. [UMass-Lowell] was ready to play both nights and they played two really good games. I know we’re going to look back on it and say that it made us a better hockey team.”