No. 1 ASU came into Friday’s game against No. 5 Oklahoma undefeated, and left with its first loss of the season. But how did Goliath fall?
OU beat ASU because of its defense and special teams. The Sooners scored only two goals against ASU freshman goalie Robert Levin (one was with an empty net), but it was enough.
OU started the scoring with a power play goal after winning the faceoff in ASU’s zone. The Sooners took the draw and whacked at the loose puck until it fluttered past Levin for the score. Winning faceoffs became key because it helped prevent goals.
ASU had its chances on the power play, particularly in the third period. Down by a goal, ASU was granted a five-on-three opportunity for 1:12 then another 48 seconds with one extra man and did not score. OU won its defensive zone faceoffs and cleared the puck.
The loss also came as a failure of ASU’s to execute its game plan. On that five-on-three, ASU coach Greg Powers said he told senior captain Colin Hekle to not miss the net when he got his shot. Powers wanted to make OU’s goalie make a save. Hekle missed wide on his slapper and OU cleared the puck the length of the ice, killing valuable time.
On even strength, OU came in with the gameplan that it was going to crowd the neutral zone and take away ASU’s passing lanes both in the middle and on the wings, and it did just that.
For the majority of the game the Sun Devils were unable to mount a charge in their typical fashion, and most of their best scoring opportunities came when an ASU attacker got behind the wall OU created between the blue lines and broke through with only the goalie to beat. That strategy continued into Saturday, when ASU’s first two goals were a breakaway after a penalty and a penalty shot.
It also helps a team when it has a goalie like Nick Holmes. OU’s senior netminder boasts a 13-6 record with a 1.97 goals against average and a .921 save percentage on the season. He blocked 27 of 28 shots and allowed an ASU offense which scores almost six goals per game to score only once.
Of his 27 saves, none were better than robbing ASU sophomore Kory Chisholm in the first period. Senior forward David Jantzie had the puck for the Sun Devils and found a wide-open Chisholm, who unleashed a vicious one-timer. Holmes slid all the way across the net and plucked the puck out of the air for a beautiful glove save. That kept OU’s lead late in the first period.
For a team that averages more than 4.5 goals per game, OU did not have its best performance Friday night. Its two goals (excluding the empty-netter) came off an offensive zone faceoff in the first period and an ASU turnover in its own zone, which led to an open man in front of the net.
Powers said his defense played well enough to win the game, but said OU did a good job on capitalizing on ASU’s mistakes, primarily the turnover that led to OU’s second goal.
ASU is 25-1-0 and will almost surely retain its No. 1 ranking in the ACHA. But OU proved that the Sun Devils are beatable, and up until Friday night, that wasn’t as apparent.
ASU won Saturday, clinching the season series 2-1 while outscoring OU 7-6 in the three games, arguably ASU’s most exciting games of the season. Both teams are essentially locks to make the national tournament, and another meeting in that tournament could be the best game in the ACHA all season.
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