Tempe, Ariz. – The #3 ranked Robert Morris Men’s Gold Hockey team split their weekend series with top ranked Arizona State University, falling to the Sun Devils 7-4 on Friday, December 7th and then upsetting ASU 5-3 on Saturday, December 8th.
Arizona State University has rightfully held a tight grip on the #1 ranking in ACHA Division I hockey since the third week of the 2012-13 season. Over that time, they’d not only been #1, they’d been undefeated against ACHA competition with their only loss of the year coming at the hands of NCAA Division I Penn State University. After getting thumped by Penn State in the first of their two contests at Penn State a week ago, they came back and won the second game of the series 3-1 in a stunning upset.
The Sun Devils returned home to play the #3 ranked Eagles, who promptly wrote that very same script against ASU, with RMU dropping Friday’s game but coming back Saturday with the upset, posting a 5-3 win.
The Eagles were leery of Friday’s game. They hadn’t played since their November 16th and 17th sweep at Indiana University, and in the past, games after lengthy layoffs have spelled trouble and this would be no different. RMU scored first in the opening game, but that would be the only lead they had on the night. Sophomore Tony Domico made it 1-0 before the Sun Devils took charge, tying the game and taking the lead. Junior leading scorer Gehrett Sargis tied it at 2-2, but ASU took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission with a late goal. An early second period goal made it 4-2, but Sargis answered that one with a brilliant solo rush, winding through two defenders before breaking in on goal and deking ASU goalie Joe D’Elia out. But ASU scored on the very next shift and started the third period with a 5-3 lead. They would grow that lead to 7-3 before freshman Chris Pontello ripped home a late goal to make the final 7-4.
“It was easily our worst game of the year,” said assistant coach Chad Berman. “That takes nothing away from ASU, who is clearly the most talented team in the country. But we were bad in every area of the game. The time off really hurt us.”
The series finale would be the polar opposite of the opener. From the opening face-off, the Eagles used their speed and aggressiveness to hold ASU in check. As in the first game, Domico opened the scoring on a shot from close-in, with great assists from sophomores Kyle Hamilton and Mason Riley. But unlike the first game, the Eagles would never find themselves tied or behind. Pontello almost increased the margin to 2-0 when he slammed a shot at the net on a breakaway, only to see it clang off the crossbar.
Pontello did make it 2-0 in the second period, taking a great feed from sophomore Derek Winkler and beating the ASU goalie with a dazzling move. In the mean time, RMU played a suffocating team defense against ASU, severely limiting their scoring threats against goalie Anthony Petrak. As a matter of fact, the Eagles would hold ASU to 26 shots in the game, the first time the #1 team had been held under 30 shots the entire year. Hamilton made it 3-0 depositing a rebound into the back of the net, and Sargis struck again on a low wrist shot, sending the Eagles into the second intermission with a 4-0 lead.
ASU made a game of it late in the third. With the game seemingly well in hand, ASU scored on a well executed power play goal, and then just moments later, they scored on a breakaway and suddenly they owned the game’s momentum. Goalie Petrak made two nice glove saves, but RMU re-established their physical play and speed. With less than two minutes remaining, the visitors found themselves back on the penalty kill, and ASU scored on a break to make it 4-3. The packed house roared at the new life their team had, and ASU pulled their goalie in an attempt to tie the game, but senior Brett Moser made a brilliant zone clear, chased down the loose puck behind the vacated ASU net, and slipped it to junior Chris Cimoch who scored to make the final 5-3, and give the Eagles their biggest win of the year.
“ASU is the best team in the ACHA,” said head coach Chico Adrahtas. “So to be the first team in the ACHA to beat them, especially in their home rink was a thrill for our team. It was also reinforcement for some of the fundamental necessities we need to execute in order to compete with teams with superior talent. We’ve had games like Friday’s before, but they were against lesser teams where we could win by playing one period of hockey. To have a chance to win in Nationals, you have to play three periods with the type of intensity and execution we showed Saturday.”
“Saturday was the definition of a team victory,” added Adrahtas. “Literally every one of our forwards worked exactly like we expect them to, literally all six of our D played tough, strong and smart. Our goal going into the weekend was getting a series split and getting our 16th win of the year, and we accomplished those goals.”
RMU has run its season record to 16-2-1, and with the win may have enough momentum to move to #2 in the ACHA rankings. The Eagles return home for a series against Western Michigan University on Friday, December 14th and Saturday, December 15th at The Edge in Bensenville. Face-off for both games is at 7:30 P.M.