In sports, the close-game losses hurt the most.
For the ASU hockey team, that moment came on Saturday night at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.
The No. 1 Sun Devils (20-2) entered a two-game series against No. 3 Robert Morris (Illnois), creating a matchup that was highly anticipated throughout the ACHA.
Both teams had identical seasons thus far — both losing only one game, goalies with similar stats and records and both fed off playing rough, high-scoring hockey.
Robert Morris (16-2-1) came out fast and physical against ASU on Friday night. Late hits and unnecessary battering led to after-the-whistle exchanges between the Eagles and Sun Devils.
“They are a very good team,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “(They’re) very physical and play hard.”
After attempting 31 of its 50 shots on goal, ASU found a way to put four of them past the one-loss sophomore goaltender Andy DiCristofaro through the first half of the game before Robert Morris gave junior backup goalie Anthony Petrak a try. That didn’t do much to save the Eagles from the wrath of “The Wizard,” freshman forward Stephen Collins, from finishing what he started.
Collins and the Sun Devils put another three goals passed Petrak before the night was over for the Eagles, 7-4. Collins finished the night with his second hat trick of the season.
“(Collins) just really seems to settle in well on our home ice,” Powers said. “He likes to eat a lot of ‘wet bread’ at home, and I think that really fuels him well at home to perform.”
ASU junior goalie Joseph D’Elia may not have had his best night, but he still buckled down to secure the Sun Devil victory.
“I think he (D’Elia) started out shakey but came on stronger as the game went on,” Powers said. “He found a way to help us win tonight and sometimes that’s all I can ask as a coach.”
Friday night’s game was nothing short of sloppy, but Powers and the Sun Devils found a way to win regardless of what happened in between the 60 minutes.
“I like that we don’t back down from a challenge, but the discipline needs to be reeled back in,” Powers said. “Overall not a great effort. We need to be better (tomorrow).”
Game 2 — Saturday
ASU had yet to lose an in-conference game. Its only loss came at the hands of NCAA D-I Penn State last weekend.
The Eagles lost a physical battle with the Sun Devils Friday night, but Robert Morris had different plans for game two.
Once again, the Eagles came out of the gate fast, putting shots on goal in the first period resulting in a goal past junior goalie Kyle Dietriech. Friday night only provided six shots in the first period by the Eagles, but turned it around for 10 shots on Saturday.
The Sun Devils failed to score in the first after an apparent goal was called off due to an irregular penalty — a late offsides — after the play.
Then the floodgates broke wide open.
Robert Morris tallied three goals in the second period to make it 4-0 before ASU sophomore goalie Corey Frank replaced Dietriech at the end of the second.
The Sun Devils had never trailed by more than two goals at any point in their 20 wins. At that point of the game, ASU had to try and rally from down four to keep its ACHA perfect streak alive.
Sophomore forward Kale Dolinski got the Sun Devils started with the first goal of the evening against Petrak. Then junior forward Danny McAuliffe followed up Dolinski’s goal 14 seconds later to make it 4-2. The valiant effort continued with a goal by junior captain Colin Hekle with just under two minutes remaining.
Powers then pulled Frank to leave an open net, but add a sixth man to the line in an attempt to net the tying goal.
Unfortunately for the rallying Sun Devils, Robert Morris junior forward Christopher Cimoch’s open-net goal killed ASU’s momentum with a minute left to play.
“I was very proud of the guys, especially considering how short benched we were,” Powers said. “I know they were tired, but they never gave up and that is a great sign.”
ASU lost its first ACHA game to the Eagles 5-3.
“We will use it to get better, and the guys will definitely be more motivated now coming off a nice and well deserved break,” Powers said.
The Sun Devils will have their first break of the season to recoup over the next three weeks. The team will travel to British Columbia on Dec. 28 and 29 for a game against two college teams — British Columbia and Simon Fraser.
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