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Sun Devil hockey starts hot, sweeping Merrimack

With the help of late game goals and stellar defense, ASU upsets and sweeps No. 15 Merrimack over the weekend

ASU junior defenseman Jackson Niedermayer (20) skates down the ice on at Mullett Arena Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, in Tempe. ASU won 16-0.

In their first pair of regular season games at Mullett Arena, the Arizona State men's hockey team completed the sweep on the ice against then-No. 15 ranked Merrimack, earning them a No. 18 ranking and two huge wins against a strong opponent.

ASU's No. 18 rank from U.S College Hockey Online is its first time since 2020 – a great start for the Sun Devils after finishing last season with an 18-21 record and missing the NCAA tournament. 

On Friday, the Sun Devils gutted out an overtime 1-0 victory defined by elite defense and a clutch goal by senior forward Matthew Kopperud. Despite the impressive win, head coach Greg Powers knew the team was still scraping off the rust. 

"We have a really good team, with a lot of skilled players that have more than what they showed tonight, and I have no doubt in my mind that they will tomorrow," Powers said in a press conference on Friday.

The next day, the Sun Devils trailed 2-1 at the end of the second period of play. Similarly to the night before, the late game heroics of Kopperud showed up once again with a goal in the third period, with less than a minute left on the clock. 

"We didn’t think we were out of (the game) at all," Kopperud said. "The crowd didn’t think we were out of it either…we had trust within our group." 

Behind Kopperud’s goal, and an assist to senior forward Alex Young for an empty netter goal, ASU secured the 4-2 win. Despite the big weekend for the senior forward, the most important stat line is the numbers in the win column. 

"The biggest thing is the sweep…scoring two goals is obviously nice, but having two wins under our belt now to start the season is way nicer," Kopperud said. 

Along with Young, senior forward Lukas Sillinger and senior forward Ryan O’Reilly would also earn a goal for the Sun Devils on Saturday night, the improving the offensive output from the night before. 

While the offense put points on the board, the defense in front of the net for the Sun Devils was exceptional for junior goaltender TJ Semptimphelter. Semptimphelter played an excellent game on Friday, allowing zero goals through three periods and overtime. 

Semptimphelter started in net in over 35 games last season and has proven he’s up for the challenge again this year. He had 31 saves on Friday and 30 saves on Saturday.

"That’s why I’m there, if something breaks down in front of me or a bad bounce doesn’t go our way, stuff is going to happen," Semptimphelter said. "It’s a game and I’m just happy to be playing the game I love and putting my head in front of pucks." 

The Sun Devils will try to keep the ball rolling this weekend at Mullett Arena against Northern Michigan. 

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan

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