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ASU D1 Hockey: Despite gritty play, Sun Devils outlast Fighting Illini

(Photo:Allyson Cummings/WCSN)

Tasked with defending their newly reclaimed number one ranking, the  Sun Devils defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 3-1. In their final home stand before the winter break, ASU prevailed in a series that at some points became chippy, with a few shouting skirmishes and extra-curricular activities between the two teams.

The first team was marred with sloppy play by both teams. After facing a firing squad last night, Sun Devil goaltender Robert Levin faced just five shots on net in the first period. Arizona State did not start out much better in their offensive set. The Sun Devils rifled up a load of shots, but only able to get nine on target.

“Tonight we were much better than last night in every way,” Powers said. “The attention to detail was there tonight.”

However, Eric Rivard and the forecheck applied enough pressure and forced the Illinois backline to make poor decisions. Sean Murphy ripped a shot that deflected off of a defender and Rivard slipped the puck into the net.

After stifling 39 of Illinois’ 40 shots the night before, Levin’s performance was clearly irritating the visiting Illini. Matthew Flosi took a frustration penalty and slashed the legs of Ryan Belonger. On the ensuing penalty, Murphy sprinted down the ice and put the puck on the top right shelf to put Arizona State up 2-0.

“I just tried to pick up as much speed as I could and kind of caught a couple of guys flat-footed. They gave me a lot of space so I just decided to take it,” Murphy said.

Minutes later, Jonathan Langan tried to take advantage of a 3-on-2. His shot was accidentally redirecting by a Sun Devil defender, rebounded off of Levin’s shoulder, and was tapped in by Jacob Matysiak.

The final period is when the Sun Devils pulled away and put the game away. Illinois’ frustration seemed to mount with every shot stifled by Levin and struggled to match ASU’s physicality.

Rivard and Olen engaged in a pinball match that ended with Rivard’s third goal of the weekend. A few big hits and missed opportunities by both teams later, the clock ran out and Coach Greg Powers left Oceanside Arena satisfied with a victory.

All that remains on the Sun Devils schedule before the winter break is a trip to Tucson to face off against their bitter rival, the Arizona Wildcats. The Sun Devils swept the Wildcats earlier in the season and will be eager to up their advantage to four for the season.

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