On Saturday night at in Tempe, AZ, the Arizona State Sun Devils erased an early 3-1 deficit and came from behind to defeat the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers by a score of 5-3 at Oceanside Ice Arena. The win was the Sun Devils’ 15th of the year, and brings their record to 15-8-3 on the 2019-20 regular season.
A Tale of Two Goaltenders
After a 6-1 throttling at the hands of ASU on Friday night, RIT got on the board first in the opening period on Saturday, when Kobe Walker beat ASU goaltender Max Prawdzik on a breakaway at 6:09 during a delayed penalty situation. Prawdzik, ASU’s normal backup netminder, started this one after stopping 23 of 24 shots a night earlier, but the Tigers were able to solve him early on Saturday.
The Sun Devils were able to kill the ensuing Tigers power play, and got the game tied late in the period when Willie Knierim snuck a shot past RIT netminder Logan Drackett, which barely trickled over the line for Knierim’s ninth of the year at 16:20. The play started after ASU kept the puck in at the RIT blue line, and, seconds later, the puck was in the Tigers net.
RIT answered with yet another breakaway goal, though – this time from Shawn Cameron with just 1:14 remaining in the period. Cameron got behind the Sun Devil defense and roofed one past Prawdzik to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
Cameron struck again early in Period No. 2, chasing Prawdzik with his second of the night and team-leading 11th of the season at 1:18. With ASU now trailing 3-1, on came normal starter Evan DeBrouwer, and things changed quickly after Sun Devils’ bench boss Greg Powers made the goalie change. Just 10:08 after DeBrouwer entered the game, the Devils had the game tied up after goals from Knierim and P.J. Marrocco, who found some empty space on the ice and beat RIT goaltender Logan Drackett top shelf to make the score 3-3 heading into the second intermission.
In Period No. 3, the Sun Devils resumed their onslaught of Drackett and struck for two goals in quick succession to put the game on ice – defenseman Josh Maniscalco buried his ninth of the year at 7:06, and James Sanchez provided the insurance with a power-play goal at 9:52 as ASU went on to complete the weekend sweep of RIT with a 5-3 victory.
Sun Devils Eying NCAA Appearance
The Sun Devils entered the weekend as the No. 14-ranked team in both the USCHO NCAA hockey rankings and in the NCAA college hockey bracketology rankings, and they’ll likely see both rankings improve as a result of their sweep of RIT. The Devils have now won four straight – next up is a big weekend series at Clarkson University in Potsdam, NY, Jan. 24-25. Clarkson was No. 7 in Monday’s USCHO rankings, and was No. 10 in the bracketology rankings – this will be a big series as ASU continues to build its 2020 NCAA Tournament resume.
Last season, ASU became the first independent team since 1992 to qualify for the field of 16 NCAA Tournament teams, and, barring a late-season collapse in 2020, they’ll likely be making a return trip to the tournament, with aspirations of earning the first Frozen Four berth in program history.
Last spring, the Sun Devils entered the tournament as a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional, which was contested in Allentown, PA, but were defeated 2-1 in their first tournament game by No. 2-seeded Quinnipiac University.
The Devils finished the 2018-19 regular season with a solid 21-12-1 record, but, so far in 2019-20, they’ve been even better. Last year’s ASU squad finished the year with just a single win over a ranked team, which came in overtime at No. 6 Penn State on Nov. 3, 2018, and, overall, ASU went 1-7-1 against ranked teams. This season, the Sun Devils boast four wins over ranked teams, including a weekend sweep of No. 9 Quinnipiac in Tempe Nov. 1-2. ASU owns a 4-4-2 record against top-20 teams in 2019-20.
After the series at Clarkson, the Sun Devils will round out their regular season with games against teams which all own losing records – ASU will play a home series against Robert Morris (9-10-3; No. 45 in the Pairwise Rankings) Jan. 31-Feb. 1, road games at Holy Cross (6-12-5; No. 46) and Bentley (8-13-3; No. 50) Feb. 7-8, a home series versus Alaska Anchorage (4-14-4; No. 56) Feb. 14-15, and the Sun Devils will wrap up the season with a road series at Wisconsin (9-12-1; No. 32) Feb. 21-22.
If ASU earns a split at Clarkson and wins their remaining games, they’d close the year with a 24-9-3 record. That should be good enough to not only reach the tournament, but potentially earn a No. 2 or No. 3 seed and avoid the powerhouse No. 1 seeds in the Regional Semifinals. Only time will tell, but ASU is in good shape to make some noise down the stretch.
A Bright Future in Tempe
The fact that we’re talking about potential back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids for the Arizona State Sun Devils in ice hockey in 2020 is quite astonishing. The program, which competed at the ACHA club level less than five years ago, has experienced a meteoric rise since moving to the NCAA, and now can be considered one of the country’s better college hockey programs in this, just its fifth season at the D-I level.
Powers, who has been the head coach of the Sun Devils since the program’s ACHA days, has done a masterful job of recruiting quality talent to Tempe. On the team this year is Austin Lemieux, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. The Sun Devils also have a commitment from Jackson Niedermayer, son of Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer, who will make his Sun Devil debut in 2021-22. Josh Doan, the son of Captain Coyote Shane Doan, will also arrive on campus in 2021-22.
ASU has already put some players into the NHL, too – goaltender Joey Daccord played a game with the Ottawa Senators in 2018-19, and is currently enjoying a solid rookie season with the AHL’s Belleville Senators. On ASU’s 2019-20 roster is sophomore Demetrios Koumontzis, who was a fourth-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2018.
ASU is attracting big names and superb talent to Tempe, which should only help Powers’ future recruiting efforts. Just four years ago, the Sun Devils went 5-22-2 in their first NCAA season. The talent disparity between ASU and the opposition was on display nearly every night – there were losses by 10, 7, 6, and 5 goals throughout the year. In their first “big” event as an NCAA program, ASU was shut out in both games of the 2016 Desert Hockey Classic at Gila River Arena, mustering just 12 shots on goal in a 4-0 loss to Yale on Jan. 8 before dropping a 3-0 decision to UConn in the consolation game on Jan. 10.
Fast forward to four years later, and the Sun Devils are a top-15 team with an outside chance at qualifying for the Frozen Four. It’s safe to say that many national hockey pundits didn’t believe that this could happen so quickly.
Fortunately, head coach Greg Powers was one that believed it would. And, under his watch, Arizona State University is turning into a hockey school.