Leading up to their home opener Saturday night, the expectations were high for the Arizona State Sun Devils, who would play their first game as members of the NCAA Division I against their most hated rival from Tucson, the University of Arizona Wildcats. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Sun Devils did not disappoint in front of the 5,385 fans at Gila River Arena.
Some could argue that ASU’s 8-1 win over their nemesis was more of a testament to their progress as a hockey program, joining the elite ranks in college hockey, rather than the lack of improvement from UA hockey. Regardless, Arizona head coach Chad Berman said the team gave themselves no chance of winning with their early play and lack of discipline throughout the 60 minutes of regulation.
Just 7:35 into puck drop, Arizona starting goalie Garrett Patrick gave up what could be classified as a soft goal to Arizona State defenseman Connor Schmidt.
Coming into the game, Schmidt said snatching the first goal was one of the main objectives of his team, as they knew this would gain them confidence and calm their nerves. Schmidt and his teammates knew this would also diminish the confidence of their opponent.
“Teams like this, you know that they are going to come out hard every shift and the longer that we don’t score and its zero to zero the more confidence they get and hope that they think they can stay in,” said Schmidt.
With the Sun Devils immediately scoring again to lead 2-0, Arizona center Robbie Wilkinson put the Wildcats back in the game by splitting the lead in half with an unexpected goal from the side of the left circle, which stunned ASU goalie Robert Levin.
“I saw their goalie wasn’t covering the corner of the net properly so I just shot it and it went in,” said Wilkinson.
From there the Sun Devils dominated, answering with two breakaway goals by the end of the period.
Berman decided to not replace Garrett Patrick during the intermission despite giving up four goals in the first period.
“Obviously I’m sure the first one he’d like to have back but we were giving ASU way too much time and space, especially through the neutral zone.”
Although Patrick wasn’t sharp by any means, Berman said it was not poor goaltending that put ASU in the driver’s seat.
ASU did not back off in the second period either, as less than three minutes into the second period the Sun Devils scored two more goals to put the game out of reach.
As the score became 6-1, both teams replaced their starting goalies.
Despite the outcome, Wilkinson said the team should take this game as a learning experience to not give up unnecessary penalties against good teams. Wilkinson also said the loss does not take away from the amazing opportunity the team had in playing at this venue.
“We were really excited going into the game… I feel like going into this game we had nothing to lose. I feel that if we got that first goal it would have been a different game.”