Minnesota completed a sweep of Arizona State on Saturday night with a 5-2 victory to complete their regular season. Full game recap is here.
Here were my thoughts on tonight’s game...
This weekend was Minnesota’s first ever meeting with Arizona State, and needless to say, the Sun Devils did not make a favorable first impression, both with the quality of their play and with their discipline.
We’ll start with how they played. Off the top, it’s worth acknowledging that there were some mitigating factors at play here. The Sun Devils hadn’t played on an Olympic-sized ice sheet yet this season, and more importantly, the big ice does not at all suit their style of play. They were playing without their top scorer in Johnny Walker, who is out with a lower body injury. They’ve also only played two series in the last month—both against Atlantic Hockey teams. And they didn’t have a whole lot to play for with an NCAA Tournament bid more than likely already sewn up.
So fine, there was a lot working against them. I’m not sure all of that combined excuses just how badly they got dominated on Friday night and the first half of Saturday’s game until the game was mostly out-of-reach at 4-0. Minnesota isn’t a bad team, but I think everyone recognizes how out-gunned they’ve looked against quality competition this year. This weekend, they looked miles better than Arizona State.
This weekend is likely to draw some attention to Arizona State as an NCAA Tournament team. Even with the two losses, Arizona State only dropped to 9th in both the Pairwise and RPI. They’re almost guaranteed to be in the NCAA Tournament unless pretty much everything goes wrong for them in conference playoffs over the next three weekends. But they certainly didn’t pass the eye test on the ice this weekend, nor does anything on their resume jump out as a legit NCAA Tournament team performance(FWIW, some people want to complain about Arizona State’s scheduling, but I don’t think they scheduled Boston College and Boston University with the expectation that those games would be a * fart noise * at the end of the season).
It’s perhaps worth noting that while the RPI loves Arizona State, KRACH has Arizona State at 16th, which would almost definitely put them out of the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks.
As is usually the case with NCAA Hockey, entirely too much emphasis will likely be placed on how they perform in the NCAA Tournament when they next take the ice 26 days from now. Who knows. The one player that definitely didn’t disappoint this weekend was goalie Joey Daccord, who kept both games much closer than they should have been, and a very good goalie is the best thing you can have in a single-elimination tournament.
The second half of the story this weekend was the dirty play from Arizona State. They’re a tough, physical team by trade, and that’s fine if they’re going to edge up to the line. But when they do this...
ASU's Jacob Wilson ejected for this hit on UMN's Sampo Ranta pic.twitter.com/iZyGsLiUmw— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 3, 2019
Minnesota did a nice favor to Arizona State by scheduling a non-conference series this late in the season. I wonder if the thinking will change after this. I’m not sure what is in it for a team to play a fairly meaningless series this late in the season and risk injury before a critical playoff series.
As it was, Ranta ended up returning to the ice to play after this hit, though he received a number of stitches first. But Minnesota freshman Nathan Burke left the game late in the second period limping after being on the receiving end of a kneeing infraction, and did not return. If Burke can’t go next weekend, that’s a huge loss for games that could end Minnesota’s season.
It was a successful Senior Night for Minnesota’s big senior class. Jack Ramsey got the scoring started in the first minute, followed by Darian Romanko getting his first goal of the season shortly after. Eric Schierhorn was strong in goal when he needed to be, and third-stringer Brock Kautz was able to close out the game(A long stretch with no whistles meant Kautz only got 26 seconds in the net, but he did have to make a save in those final moments).
The legacy for this group will be complicated at best. At many points during this season, the upperclassmen took a lot of criticism—some fair, some not—for the struggles of Minnesota’s program. But they were a group that played a lot of hockey over the past four years and deserved their nice moment this evening.