Buoyed by their blowout victory over Northern Michigan on Friday night, Arizona State came out firing on all cylinders and, just like Friday, shot out to a 3-0 lead against Michigan Tech and hung on for a 3-2 win and the championship in the inaugural Ice Vegas Invitational Tournament.
With both sides short-handed, the Sun Devils scored early on a 4-on-4 breakaway by Brinson Pasichnuk at the 2:54 mark, beating Tech goalie Devin Kero on the blocker side after a nice move. ASU continued to dominate the play for the rest of the first period, as the Huskies’ passes seemed to bounce astray or be short or long of the target on most of their rushes. ASU’s control of the game flow was evident on the shot chart, as they outshot the Huskies 13-7 in the first period.
In the second, Tech started strong with two good shifts, but ASU goalie Joey Daccord was in great position for the shots on net, and the Huskies never seemed to get much traffic in the slot. Then the Sun Devils quickly turned the tables again, scoring 4-on-4 with a bang-bang play that started with an odd bounce, followed by a quick shot from ASU’s Johnny Walker that fooled Kero at 2:28.
Tech started to get their legs at that point, and got plenty of shots on Daccord. But none of them seemed close to getting past the ASU net minder. Nor was there ever much traffic in front of Daccord, and he didn’t leave many rebounds, either.
Holding on to their 2-0 lead, ASU took advantage of a questionable icing call against Tech with about 6 minutes left in the second period. After winning the draw in the Huskies’ end, the Sun Devils maintained control for about 15 seconds before Pasichnuk fired one from the point which again eluded Kero. Kero’s night was over, giving up 3 goals on 15 shots.
With ASU up 3-0 and just 5:41 left in the second period, Tech coach Joe Shawhan inserted Packy Munson in goal. But Tech didn’t seem to rally much from the change, and then they were forced to open the third period on the penalty kill.
After successfully killing the penalty, Tech got a power play of their own, and they capitalized after getting the puck in the slot area and winning the scramble in front of Daccord. Dylan Steman, who had hit a post just a couple of minutes earlier, drove it home with about 15 minutes left in the game. Jake Jackson and Dane Birks were awarded the assists on the goal.
With less than 10 minutes left in the game, something seemed to change on the ice, and Tech’s play became a bit crisper while ASU seemed to be holding back just a bit. With the Huskies continuing to press, Grayson Reitmeier popped in another greasy goal at the 16:05 mark. The assists went to Justin Misiak and Steman.
From that point forward, the Huskies were all over the ice trying to get the equalizer, but time and again ASU won the scrums along the board and managed to eat most the remaining time with dump outs and just plain solid defense.
With less than two minutes remaining, Munson headed for the bench and Shawhan added a sixth attacker. Alas, it was all for naught as ASU continued to apply determined defensive pressure, tipping passes, blocking shots, and forcing the play into their own corners.
Time ran out on the Huskies, and ASU—the clear underdog in the tournament—had won the championship with a 3-2 win over MTU.
Overall, Tech seemed to be off just a bit for most of the game. Whether it was fatigue from playing in their fourth game in six days, or just another night of maddening inconsistency is hard to tell. In his post-game press interview, Shawhan, after giving full credit to the Sun Devils, expressed disappointment in Tech’s ability to play against a tight-checking team that took away the Huskies’ space and time.
He specifically cited a lack of grit—not a lack of effort—as the big issue. However, he did single out Steman, Gavin Gould and Mitch Reinke as Huskies who played tough and smart against ASU’s counter-punching style. And, in a more telling moment, he noted that Tech will play most of the rest of their games against teams that will do exactly the same thing. After Tech’s play in both the GLI final and the Ice Vegas final is available on video to opponents, Them Dogs can expect to see nothing but the same defensive style ASU and Bowling Green used to frustrate the Huskies’ offense.
Tech will be off next weekend before returning to action on January 20, starting a home series against the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks at the John MacInnes Student Arena.