Mason, defense take down ASU
By Matt Esaena
Last season, ASU’s Division II hockey team claimed first place in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) Western Conference. The Sun Devils beat the Northern Arizona University (NAU) DII Ice Jacks in three out of four games. Coming into this season, ASU may have felt they had the edge for the in-state rivalry, but NAU’s goaltending and defense proved that theory wrong.
NAU swept a two-game series from ASU this past weekend in Tempe. Friday night, the Jacks skated off the ice with a 5–4 shootout win and Saturday’s game also had a nail-biting shoot-out victory as the Jacks won 1–0.
“It was a huge opportunity for us to take on last season’s number one ranked team,” said general manager AJ Fairchild after Saturday’s win. “We are just as talented as they are and we are going to get even better as the season goes on.”
Friday night was a game played goal for goal and hit for hit. The Ice Jacks and the Sun Devils matched each other in almost every category except for one: saves. Mason stunned the crowd, where NAU fans outnumbered ASU fans despite the game being in Tempe, with 43 saves. The Jacks may have won the game in regulation if it were not for a costly turnover by sophomore defender Nathan Kundla with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Kundla coughed the puck up the middle of the ice in his own zone to ASU’s leading scorer from last season, Cameron Morgan. Morgan buried a goal to knot the game at four. After a scoreless overtime, the game went into a shootout. Butenhoff was the only player to score in the tie-breaking contest as Mason stopped all three ASU shooters to give NAU the 5–4 shoot-out win.
Saturday night’s game was played with few mistakes from both teams. Senior goalie Quinn Mason stood on his head all night, keeping ASU scoreless, as the net minder had 33 saves for NAU. There were two main reasons for Mason’s success that night: his rebound control was excellent and he hardly ever let a rebound bounce off his pads and when he did, he made sure an Ice Jack would be able to get a stick on the puck first; and the defense playing in front of Mason was supreme.
Senior defender Justin Frechoine used his 6-foot-4-inch frame to his advantage by knocking down attacking ASU players every chance he had. In addition, junior defender Dillon Butenhoff and freshman defender DJ Benjamin had some on-ice chemistry early in the season. The two were making solid tape-to-tape passes all game. There was one mistake late in the second period, as the Ice Jacks had a 5-on-3 power play for over a minute that they were unable to capitalize on.
After regulation ended with neither team having scored, the game went into a best of three shoot-out. Mason stopped one of the three ASU shots while sophomore forwards Vinny Eck and Zach Fader scored on their attempts to give the Ice Jacks the win.
“This was a very exciting weekend for us,” said head coach Travis Johanson. “These games were a huge boost for our defense and goalie.”
Senior forward Nick Short was activated from the injured list to play in Friday’s game, but was unable to play Saturday due to wrist soreness. Senior forward Rockey DeAngelo played in both games despite missing practice time this past week due to a sore rotator cuff.
The NAU coaching staff named their captains for the season. Short, Butenhoff, and senior defenseman Aaron Ghan were named assistant captains while junior Carter Achilles was honored by being named team captain for the season.
The Jacks will try to use the momentum gained from sweeping their in-state rivals this weekend as they travel to Colorado for three games. Two of the games will be at Denver University with the other at Colorado State University.