(Photo: Allyson Cummings/WCSN)
Coming off an ACHA Championship and record-breaking season, expectations for ASU’s D1 hockey team were set incredibly high. In the team’s season opener Friday night in front of a packed Oceanside Arena, it is safe to say those expectations were met. Sophomore forward Ryan Ostertag’s hat trick set the tone to lead the Sun Devils 8-3 over the Niagara Eagles.
From the drop of the puck the Sun Devils came out flying with a tenacious fore-check and aggressive defense. A little over two minutes into the game, senior forward Liam Norris cashed in on an odd- man rush giving ASU their first goal of the 2014 season. ASU netminder Robert Levin was untested throughout most of the 1st period with his hardest test coming off a pair of Eagles two-on-one rushes. Niagara’s goalie Mike Parda was able to fend off a swarm of ASU shots to end the opening period, keeping the score 1-0.
Trying to change their fortune, the Eagles came out of the intermission aggressive. Eagle forward Tommy Chamberlain caught a sprawling Robert Levin out of position and bounced the puck off Levin’s back into the open net. Unfortunately the Eagles goal seemed to awaken the Sun Devils as ASU stormed back with two quick goals by Chris Blessing and Thomas Cooney. New eagle recruit Dalton Bew fired back, whipping a wrister top-shelf.
With the score 3-2 and the momentum seemingly shifting back to the Eagles, a tie- game seemed almost inevitable when Niagara was given a power play for a Kory Chisolm tripping infraction. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Ostertag made sure to restore the two-goal lead. Chasing a puck down the right side of the ice and out- skating the closest defender, Ostertag slid the puck through Parda’s five-hole.
With the Eagles appearing visibly shaken and broken after the shorthanded goal, the Sun Devils pounced in the third period. With the score still 4-2 and the verdict of the game not yet decided, Cummings put the nail in the coffin, taking the puck down the wing and unleashed a wrister glove side.
The fireworks didn’t stop just there however. Freshman forward Connor Mailey tallied another and Ostertag continued to put on an offensive clinic, netting two beauties more for the hat trick.
“Everything just seemed to click and we were cycling the puck real well tonight,” Ostertag said.
With excitement only growing after ASU’s victory, Sun Devil super fan Vinny Riservato wasn’t afraid to temper his expectations for the new season.
“I’m expecting us to go back and get a Murdock Cup win and I’m going to get loud, go devils,” Riservato said.
Riservato wasn’t the only person in the crowd pumped for ASU Hockey, with ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson making a surprise appearance to see what all the team was all about. Anderson wasn’t shy about his admiration for the reigning ACHA Champs.
“I love it, I love the action, I love the speed, the physicality of the game,” Anderson said. “I wanted to come and see for myself, I didn’t see them last spring. It’s no secret we are looking to elevate this club hockey team to a varsity level.”
He also talked about a potential jump to the NCAA division.
“We are trying to put together the support. We will certainly do the work we need to do with the NCAA… it’s aspirational but we have to make sure to go out and get the funding for it. We think we have some possibilities to take this to the next level,” Anderson said.
As far as the business on the ice, Anderson acknowledged the difficulty of repeating as champions.
“Winning a national championship is difficult, repeating is even more difficult in most situations, so we challenge them to put forward their best effort and wouldn’t it be nice to go back to back,” he said.
With so much additional exposure and following as opposed to years past, the Sun Devils have mighty big expectations to live up to this season. Friday night was a start.