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ASU men's hockey holds off Michigan State in hard-fought 5-4 victory

The Sun Devils scored two big third period goals to lift past MSU


ASU junior forward Brett Gruber (27) faces off against Michigan State sophomore forward Tommy Apap (11) during the Sun Devils' 5-4 win against Michigan State in Tempe, Arizona, on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

Playing in its second consecutive series against a Big Ten opponent, the ASU men's hockey team returned home to Oceanside Ice Arena on Friday to take on Michigan State. In a back and forth affair, the Sun Devils came out victorious with a 5-4 win.

After a scoreless first period that saw no goals, the flood gates opened in the second period as both teams combined for six goals in a period that was full of offense. 

The two frames were a tale of two periods, and it set the stage for an enticing third period in a 3-3 game.

"It was a hard fought win, and that is exactly what I told the guys," ASU head coach Greg Powers said. "That's just a gutty team win...We just found a way to come up on top again."

Heading into the last 20 minutes of action in a tie game, Powers was at the forefront of a winning effort for the Sun Devils, as he made a couple of third period adjustments that ended up paying huge dividends. 

Powers changed his lines, putting freshman forwards Jordan Sandhu and Austin Lemieux along with junior forward Brett Gruber.

Powers noted the trio had never played together before, but the new mesh of players eventually ended up providing the game-winning goal for the Sun Devils. 

On an odd-man rush against MSU, the three players combined for a tic-tac-toe goal that came off the stick of Gruber, and prior to that, Sandhu netted ASU's fourth goal on a rebound in front of the MSU net. The score would be 5-3 before MSU added a goal of its own, thus making Gruber's insurance tally that much more important while making his head coach look good for pulling the right strings.

"I just felt that we were flat. We didn't have a lot of energy the entire game, where our legs weren't quite there," said Powers of the decision to change a couple lines. "Sometimes you just want to change the dynamic a little bit...Flipping them, it worked and I am glad I did it. It made me look smart."

As for some other notable highlights of Friday night's game, ASU sophomore forward Filips Buncis scored his first goal of the season after MSU took a short-lived lead in the second period. Freshman forward PJ Marrocco and junior forward Steenn Pasichnuk also lit the lamp for the first two goals of the game, and the ASU penalty kill was perfect in vanquishing three penalties.

"We knew it was just about trying to get the puck behind their defensemen and work them down low and get on the rush," said Sandhu of trying to generate offense against MSU. "Just making sure that we are getting behind them, and working in the corners."

Lemieux echoed a similar sentiment.

"We just had to go to work down low and create space for ourselves," Lemieux said. "We found a way to get open."

Following a tightly contested win against the Spartans, ASU will get set for game two on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. MST, as the Sun Devils look to round out their third consecutive win against a Big Ten adversary. Just 11 games into the season, ASU has already tied its win total from last season, and they will look to surpass that mark tomorrow night.

"We made some mistakes tonight in areas that I think a really experienced team won't make," Powers said. "In defense of our upperclassmen, they haven't been in a lot of positions their first two years here where they have been able to close out game after game. This is a great learning experience for us, and we are getting better at it, and that's what it's all about. They are finding ways to win and that's all that matters."

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