When Anthony Croston, Dylan Hollman, Jakob Stridsberg, Jake Clifford and Jack Rowe skated onto the ice to greet ASU hockey coach Greg Powers and loved ones for a senior-class celebration before the puck dropped on Saturday night, they knew they wanted to win one more game inside Oceanside Ice Arena.
It took overtime, but No. 12 ASU held on to win 5-4 against American International on Senior Night with a goal from freshman forward P.J. Marrocco for the series sweep. With the win, ASU improved to 21-10-1 on the season and finished 12-2 inside Oceanside Ice Arena.
Throughout the season, Powers described those five seniors as the “founding fathers” for ASU hockey, which is only in its fourth season as a Division I program. In the postgame media session, Powers and all five seniors tried to explain what this win meant for the rising program and its NCAA Tournament aspirations.
“That is monumental win for us,” Powers said. “Obviously, any win at this stage of the season, when you are aiming for what we are aiming for, is huge. I am just so proud of these guys. It is a credit to these five guys and what they have built here, and certainly for the rest of that locker room for following.”
Although ASU jumped out to a 4-1 lead by the first few minutes of the second period, American International (17-14-1) stormed back, and a goal from sophomore forward Tobias Fladeby with 1:05 left in the final period sent the game into overtime. Fladeby scored both goals for American International in the third period, the first coming on a power play.
However, Marracco answered the Sun Devils' prayers as he scored the game-winning goal quickly in the overtime session. After junior defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk stole the puck, he passed to freshman forward Demetrios Koumontzis, who made a nifty move and set up Marracco for Koumontzia's third assist of the night. Pasichnuk was credited with an assist, as well, finishing with two.
For Croston, the win was emotional.
“It was pretty bittersweet, but being able to get a (win) in our last home game here is pretty special for us,” Croston said.
ASU started its offensive fireworks early as sophomore forward Filips Buncis and junior forward Tyler Busch scored to give ASU a 2-0 lead in the first period. Although no senior scored a goal, Croston and Hollman assisted the opening goal.
After the power play goal from Busch, junior forward Kyle Stephan scored for American International. Kounmontzis also scored a goal in the first period to give ASU a 3-1 advantage.
Powers said it was only a matter of time before Kounmontzis had a weekend performance like this as the freshman also scored a goal and an assist in the 4-1 win Friday.
“He is a special player,” Powers said. “That kid was playing high school last year, and to make that jump from high school hockey to Division I is hard. We knew it was going to take some time and that he was going to have a weekend like this for us, and it came at the perfect time. I really felt like he was going to come out strong. You could just see it and feel it, and he did.”
Busch scored a second goal early in the second period to give ASU a seemingly commanding 4-1 lead, but senior defenseman Ryan Polin scored to end the period for American International.
After that, American International made its comeback to force overtime. Although Powers didn’t necessarily expect the comeback, he said he never believed ASU would lose.
Although Powers and his players admit they have heard the critics, they all echoed one another, say that this ASU team is a special group and they knew they were capable to have this season and make a national impact. Powers noted that the senior class was vital in making this season and a potentially NCAA Tournament berth as an independent possible.
“They did everything right,” Powers said. “They bought in and they believed. From day one, all six of us standing here said before they leave that we are going to go to an NCAA Tournament. People laughed at us and people laughed at them. We still are not there, yet, but things are looking pretty good.”