Video by Justin Emerson | Sports Reporter
NEWARK, Del.— To say that No. 1 ASU hockey was dialed in for its first tournament game would be severely understating the first period of Friday’s game.
To say that the on-ice contest was the biggest storyline would be severely understating the fighting that happened between the two teams.
Either way you look at it, ASU won its first national tournament game and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 5-0 win over No. 16 Rhode Island Friday night.
“This is nationals,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “We came here to play like it was nationals and they did not.”
First, the hockey. Junior forward Liam Norris crept around the net after collecting a pass from senior forward Kale Dolinski and dished to freshman forward Ryan Ostertag. Like a cat, Ostertag toyed with the goalie, waiting for an open shot. As soon as he got it, he took it and wristed the puck past Rhode Island junior goalie Andrew Sherman for the first goal of game just 58 seconds after the initial puck drop.
“Liam and Kale made a really good play there and I was lucky enough to have a lot of time in the slot,” Ostertag said. “The goalie kind of committed and he was way out of position so I kind of put it in the net.”
From that point forward, it was an ugly five minutes for Rhode Island. Junior forward AJ Chua went to the box for slashing four minutes after the first goal. Less than a minute after that, ASU sophomore defenseman Jordan Young slapped a point shot past Sherman, who was screened by freshman forward Sean Murphy, to extend the ASU lead.
The five minutes of pain finished when a scrum in front of Rhode Island’s net ended as freshman defenseman Jarrod Levos poked in the third ASU goal.
With 13:54 left to play in the first period, ASU led 3-0. At that time, Rhode Island had only two shots.
Then with 3:17 left in the first period, it turned into less of a hockey game and more of a street fight.
It started when Rhode Island sophomore forward Robbie Buehrer chased down a dump-in right behind ASU sophomore Brett Blomgren. The play could have been called icing, but was not and Buehrer checked Blomgren hard from behind. Blomgren went down and the ASU bench exploded. The referees and linesmen immediately jumped in to keep the players off each other while the trainers looked at Blomgren.
“The hit isn’t what I was upset about, I was upset about two blown icing calls that led to that,” Powers said. “That’s what happens when you don’t call icing, when you don’t blow the whistle: Kids get hit from behind. So that’s on the linesmen.”
Buehrer received a game misconduct and his team was given a five-minute major. ASU was unable to score in the first 3:16 of the power play and the remaining 1:44 carried into the second period.
Blomgren was down for a few long minutes then was assisted off the ice. He did not return to the game. Powers said he expects Blomgren to play in the team’s next game.
The third period saw two goals by the Sun Devils, but the big story was a fight that saw three players ejected.
Rhode Island junior defenseman Ben Upham checked ASU junior forward Faiz Khan from behind near the Rhode Island goal and senior forward Brian McGinty came unglued, undoubtedly as a continuation of Blomgren’s injury. He jumped on Upham and started wailing on him. While the referees were occupied with McGinty and Upham, Chua and ASU senior captain Colin Hekle went at it at center ice.
It appeared that Chua was egging on Hekle, but Hekle lunged at his facemask and the two started throwing punches.
When the dust settled, Upham got a double minor for checking from behind and McGinty, Chua and Hekle were all ejected. Hekle received a five-minute facemasking major and a game misconduct. Chua got an unsportsmanlike penalty and a game misconduct.
“I think they resorted to play that was out of frustration because I don’t think they can play with us and they know it,” Powers said.
McGinty got the worst of it. He received a five-minute major for fighting and a disqualification.
McGinty’s disqualification instead of a game misconduct means that McGinty will have to serve a one-game suspension. He will not be eligible to play in ASU’s quarterfinal game Sunday.
“We’ve all come from leagues where you’re able to fight and you’re able to stick up for your teammates, but in a league like this, it’s really hard because you’re put in such a tough position when it’s a dirty hit and you don’t really know what to do,” Ostertag said. “I think McGinty made the right decision there.”
Lost in the five goals the offense scored and all the fighting was another fantastic performance by ASU freshman goalie Robert Levin. He finished off his seventh shutout of the season.
ASU’s next game will be Sunday night against the winner of Saturday’s contest between No. 8 Delaware and No. 9 Minot State. That quarterfinal game will start at 4 p.m.
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