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No. 16 ASU Hockey surrenders five unanswered goals in 8-4 loss to No. 2 Denver

After an early ASU 3-0 lead, Denver scored five unanswered as the Sun Devils struggled to regain momentum and manage the puck

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ASU senior forward Ryan O'Reilly (38) splits the Denver defense at Mullett Arena on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Tempe. ASU lost 8-4.

Arizona State hockey’s (7-2-1) undefeated home record at Mullett Arena ended Saturday night as they struggled to hold off the University of Denver (7-2-1) in an 8-4 loss. 

The Sun Devils came onto the ice looking dominant, scoring three straight goals to take a 3-0 lead in the second period. However, the momentum shifted drastically in a matter of moments as the Pioneers scored five unanswered goals, four in the second period. 

“It stings because if we just managed the puck … we probably would have won the game,” head coach Greg Powers said. “They didn’t generate much; first half of the game, we were really good … if you mismanage against Denver, they are going to make you pay, and they did.”

ASU’s strong 3-0 lead looked like some of the best hockey the team had played all year. With scores from seniors Lukas Sillinger and Tim Lovell and graduate student captain Tyler Gratton, who had the overtime game-winner on Friday night to beat Denver, ASU was in prime position to sweep the No. 2 team in the country. 

ASU’s strong record thus far shows that they have been disciplined on the ice; however, in each of their two losses this season, the Sun Devils led by and subsequently would give up a three-goal lead. Powers claim the losses are connected by one common denominator. 

“It’s two losses, and both you’re up three, and both were results of guys mismanaging pucks," Powers said. "You just hope they learn from it. They’re kids, they’re players, they’re going to make mistakes, and good teams learn from their mistakes. I believe this team will.” 

Denver’s comeback was spearheaded by their leading goal scorer, junior Jack Devine, who scored both the game-tying and game-leading third and fourth goals for the Pioneers, each on a power play. Devine is now the first player for Denver to reach double-digit goals this season.

The Sun Devils saw a glimmer of hope in the third period, cutting Denver’s 5-3 lead to one as the ASU power play finally saw life on a Matthew Kopperud 4-on-3 goal. The Sun Devils couldn't find the net again, and as junior goalie TJ Semptimphelter was exiting the ice with 1:30 to play, Denver scored a few empty-netters, resulting in their 8-4 victory. 

Despite Semptimphelter’s strong start to the season, he struggled on Saturday, missing essential saves. Allowing his season-high in goals at six non-empty-netters. After allowing less than two goals per game on average this season, he finishes the weekend at 2.97 goals per game. 

“Look, nobody probably feels worse than (Semptimphelter); he wants a few of those back,” Powers said. “He’s been great for us, but it is what it is.”

Powers also stated that although there was no thought of putting in backup goalie Gibson Homer Saturday night, he would not rule out the possibility of Homer seeing more time in front of the net next week against Alaska Anchorage. 

It’s a bitter loss, given the circumstances for ASU. However, they don’t want to hang their head after their impressive start, including the win over Denver on Friday. The loss may be hard to swallow, but the squad feels their best hockey may be ahead of them.  

“It’s a hard-earned split with arguably the best team in the country, and it stings because of the nature of how we lost,” Powers said. “It’s our first regulation loss in our first ten games. If you told me at the start of the season that we are 7-2-1 after ten, and you split with Denver, you take it all day.” 

The Sun Devils look to get back into the win column Friday night at Mullett Arena against Alaska Anchorage.

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Walker Smith and Angelina Steel.

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