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There was an edge in Greg Powers’ voice when he reached the interview room at Oceanside Ice Arena on Friday. The Sun Devils had just defeated No. 20 Bemidji State with a performance that was far more complete than the 6-4 score suggested.
In Powers’ opinion, it was about damn time.
“Our guys finally just played pissed off and to a man, (they) knew that really through 13 games, we hadn’t shown near what we know we can be and what we know that we will be,” Arizona State’s coach said. “I thought it was overall probably our best 60-minute effort.”
ASU is going to need a lot more of those. Its first 14 games have been a mixed bag of strong stretches, torrid offense, defensive breakdowns and missed opportunities.
The Sun Devils (7-7) blew a three-goal lead at No. 3 Quinnipiac on Nov. 12. They blew a third-period lead at No. 12 Denver on Oct. 9, and they turned in what Powers called the worst period he has seen in his 14 years with the program, in a 4-3 loss to Bemidji in the first game of this series on Wednesday.
As of Monday, the Sun Devils’ 3.86 goals against per game ranked 53rd in NCAA Division I out of 59 teams, offsetting their 3.79 goals per game which ranks seventh, and their fourth-ranked power play (30.6 percent, 19 goals).
If ASU is to make it back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence — one due to COVID-19, the other due mainly to an absurd, all-road schedule — they have some work to do. In the latest PairWise rankings, which go a long way toward predicting the 16-team NCAA field, ASU is 27th.
The good news is that six of the next eight games are at home, including a rematch with Denver on Friday and Saturday, but the Sun Devils have to turn opportunity into execution.
“We gotta go right now,” Powers said. “There’s got to be a new level of urgency and desperation and it’s got to be every night.
“This series against Denver is a golden opportunity for us, and if we play like we did (against Bemidji), we know we can beat them, especially in our building. The benefit of that is if you bring in a top-10 PairWise team and you get two wins, that 27 ranking is gonna go up real quick and then you control your own destiny.”
Astute observers likely noticed that Powers’ shook up his leadership team in the second game against the Beavers on Saturday. His team defense has frustrated him this season, but so has the team’s mindset and swagger when preparing for games.
When the Sun Devils took the ice for the second game against Bemidji, the entire leadership group had changed. Graduate transfer Colin Theisen was wearing the captain’s C, while graduate transfer Jack Becker, senior forward Demetrios Koumontzis and junior defenseman Jacob Semik were wearing the As as alternate captains.
Theisen and Becker wore Cs at Notre Dame and Michigan, previously.
Johnny Walker, Jacob Wilson, Willie Knierim and Jordan Sandhu comprised the leadership group at the start of the season.
“The kids that we had as captains at the start of the year have done an unbelievable job helping us build a program but we just needed to change something,” Powers said. “We needed to change the mojo and change some messaging and how the guys are getting ready.
“I think a lot of coaches are afraid to do stuff like that in the middle of the season, but I trust our guys and I trust the guys that I named captains prior to to the season to understand why I thought we needed to do it, what it would do for us and what it would do for them.”
ASU has plenty of games in which to string together wins and qualify for the postseason tournament, but it needs more signature wins. Denver provides opportunity, Clarkson (No. 14 in PairWise) provides opportunity, Cornell (No. 20) provides opportunity, and so does a road series at Minnesota State (No. 5).
The Sun Devil team that took the ice on Friday is the blueprint for the regular season’s final 15 weeks and 22 games.
“That looked like some swagger to me,” Theisen said. “I think moving forward, we’re going to play with that mojo.”
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