RECAP: ASU Suffers First Loss of Season to Umass-Almherst
By Seth Askelson // NCAA Hockey Reporter for Blaze Sports
Tempe, AZ The Arizona State hockey program (1-1) earned their first sweep in team history last season at UMass-Amherst, but the Sun Devils could not replicate that this year at home. Umass-Almherst handed ASU its first game of the season on Saturday night by a score of 4-2.
The Minutemen earned a road series split with the victory. Niko Rufo had two points (1G/1A) for Massachusetts, including the empty netter that iced ASU’s comeback chances with 49 seconds remaining.
Saturday was a drastically different night for the two squads. UMass took control of the physical play as the night moved along, and outshot the Sun Devils by eight (32-24), nearly 24 hours after the Devils won the shot count by nine (30-21).
The Minutemen seemed like three different teams each period. In the first, the teams played about even, as each team had their opportunities and the score was tied 1-1. UMass came out in the second period using their speed to take control of the game. And in the third period the visitors turned to the physical game and began to throw the body at every turn.
ASU coach Greg Powers noticed the fight and grit Massachusetts used and drew similarities from the 2016 Sun Devils.
“In our first full year last year we were a tough team to sweep,” Powers said. “We won a lot of Saturday games because we played desperate.”
Freshman forward Johnny Walker found the back of the net in the first period for his first career NCAA goal. Walker was a headliner on the 2017 Sun Devils’ top ten recruiting class, and two games into the season Walker is becoming a resonating voice in the locker room.
The word that Walker used to describe his team’s play at the end of the game was “desperation.” Walker said that his team did not necessarily panic; rather they stuck to their play style while turning up the pressure.
“I think (when you) panic, you start straying away from your game-plan,” Walker said. “Desperation. You bear down a little bit more, you compete and you do the little things a little better.”
Walker’s mentality is important because the Sun Devils will not touch home ice for nearly a month. They travel to Air Force, Nebraska Omaha and Colgate to close out October.
The time away will give the team a chance to bond and could add an extra edge to their play. Adding those qualities is a possibility Powers looks forward to.
“We have no choice but to make (the road trips) benefit us,” Powers said. “It’s going to be good for our young guys to be in that experience.”
Seth Askelson is a beat writer for ASU NCAA Hockey. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow Seth on Twitter @saskelson96