Pioneers Survive Wild and Wacky Game vs Sun Devils to Avoid Upset

Hockey is a fun sport. It’s fast, it’s skilled, it’s physical. But sometimes, it’s wild, weird, and altogether wacky and on Friday night, in the series opener between the Arizona State Sun Devils (8-8-0) and #1 Denver Pioneers(11-4-0, 6-2-0 NCHC), the latter held the day as the Pioneers skated to a 3-2 victory in a game that featured 56 DU shots on goal, a bad spearing major, and two separate challenges on Carter King’s game-winning goal. On a night in college hockey that saw some wild games around the country, the more than 5,200 in attendance at Magness Arena were treated to not only a unique hockey game but also a key DU pairwise victory.

From the jump, the Pioneers looked to impose their will on the Sun Devils, outshooting the visitors 13-5 in the opening frame, the lowest total and smallest margin in a period of the game. Despite some missed passes and sloppy play in the offensive zone, DU was able to generate plenty of Grade-A looks and force ASU goaltender TJ Semptimphelter to make plenty of highlight-reel saves. But the opening goal proved elusive until Mike Benning found twine on a screened shot from the high slot on a four-on-three power play in the first minute of the second period. It certainly seemed like with the power-play goal, the Pios’ offense was going to get back on track and skate to an easy non-conference victory.

“Just a couple rotations up top, get their PK moving,” Massimo Rizzo said of what afforded the Pioneers their power play success. “They had a different look on the PK but I think we adjusted well and it turned out to work out for us pretty well.”

But Semptimphelter, who was at his very best all night long despite getting left out to dry many times by his defensive teammates, singlehandedly prevented the Pioneers from gaining any separation on the scoreboard. In the second period alone, Denver sent 20 shots his way (to ASU’s nine) and aside from Benning’s early goal, he stopped all of them. At the other end, DU goaltender Magnus Chrona had to be alert on a night when he wasn’t regularly challenged by the opposition.

“Obviously he didn’t have as much work as their goalie,” King said of Chrona’s performance. “But when he was there, he stepped up and we need to have that, especially when we have the puck possession that we have in those games. We need a goalie that can step up in the times that he’s needed.”

But it was the end of the second period when an already disjointed, rhythm-less game began to go off the rails. With about five and a half minutes left in the middle frame after ASU tied it up, McKade Webster and Tanner Hickey got tangled up along the half-wall with the former taking the brunt of the hit. Then, behind the net, Webster lost his stick in a hit and as he skated to pick it up, he hit Hickey hard in the back as a kind of payback. But then, after that, Hickey turned, wound up, and speared Webster between the legs. Yep, exactly what you think happened, happened:

After a review of the play, Webster was given a deserved two-minute minor for roughing while Hickey was issued a five-minute major and game misconduct for spearing. The game should have turned in Denver’s favor at this juncture of the game. The Pios were dominating the Sun Devils and forcing Semptimphelter to be a hero and all of a sudden the power play unit that had already scored once was going to be on the ice for three minutes after Webster’s penalty expired.

Instead, weirdness continued to rule the night and the Pioneers had an uncharacteristically bad extended power play that featured plenty of passing and very little shooting, something that seemed to be a theme, despite the gaudy shots-on-goal statistic.

“A lot of special teams, the flow of the game was kind of interrupted, especially in the second period and into the third,” King said of the weird game. “There were a lot of times where we had to reset as a group and make sure that we kept focus.”

As is generally the case when a team is vastly outshooting an opponent but not finding the back of the net, the team getting outshot finds the net and takes the lead at a most inopportune time. That’s just hockey and that’s what happened tonight – Ryan Alexander broke the 1-1 tie early in the third period on a breakaway with an incredible move to beat Chrona with a backhand shot. It was a defensive breakdown by Benning that sprung him but it was the great deke that fooled Chrona and gave the Sun Devils their first lead of the night. With the way Semptimphelter had been playing to that point, it certainly seemed like it might have been the dagger.

“Not much!” Rizzo said, when asked whether he had played in many games where his team had nearly 60 shots on goal and only three goals to show for it. “Credit to their goalie. He played really well. He made a bunch of grade-a [saves] but I think tomorrow a couple of those will go in and we’ll have a better night.”

Fortunately for the Pioneers, though, the Sun Devils are still a fledgling program with young players who haven’t quite yet learned how to play with a lead and two minutes later, after Jack Judson took a tripping penalty, Massimo Rizzo scored on an almost identical shot to Benning’s second-period tally from the high slot. Tie game.

From there, though, the game only got more bizarre.

As soon as Rizzo’s goal found twine, the Pioneers smelled blood in the water and they attacked. Aside from a questionable Benning trip that could have been called embellishment on Robert Mastrosimone, the Pioneers completely dominated the third period and send the Sun Devils into complete survival mode. Thanks to Semptimphelter’s heroics, they mostly did just that – survive.

But, with about two minutes left in regulation, King sent a shot from the left circle that was blocked high up into the air by Semptimphelter before Jack Devine appeared to chop the puck down into the net with a high stick. It seemed pretty cut-and-dry. The puck was played with a high stick, so no goal.


Thanks to the eagle eyes of DU Director of Hockey Operations Travis Culhane, the Pioneers challenged the call on the ice under the belief that Devine didn’t actually make contact with the puck and it was an ASU player who batted the puck into the back of the net with his glove. And, after a five-plus minute review, the refs finally agreed with DU’s bench boss and overturned the call on the ice. 3-2 Pios.


ASU coach Greg Powers didn’t like the overturned call so he challenged the same play that Devine actually did play the puck with a high stick so the goal shouldn’t count. In other words, ASU challenged the challenge that had already been reviewed…and asked the refs to go look at the same play a few more times and somehow come to a different conclusion. Logic!

Since you’ve made it this far into the recap, you know by now that the Pioneers won so the Sun Devils’ challenge was unsuccessful and Denver survived the final two minutes of six-on-five hockey that included a Carter Mazur diving pass-block with under 10 seconds left to preserve the win.

It was, altogether, a bizarre night of hockey at Magness Arena. It featured just a little bit of everything and for paying fans, what more could you ask for, right? That’s what’s so magical about the wild and wacky world of college hockey.

David Carle Postgame:


Top photo: Jamie Schwaberow/Clarkson Creative Photo via Denver Athletics

5 thoughts on “Pioneers Survive Wild and Wacky Game vs Sun Devils to Avoid Upset”

  1. ASU has an interesting roster. Handful of NHL players sons, multiple transfers and some draft choices. Goalie stood on his head last night and I think he has played every minute of every game for the Sun Devils? This team is solid. Can the guy who pitch forked Webster face additional discipline?

  2. What a game!! Hope DU can pull away earlier in tonight’s game. Not sure my heart can take repeat of this one. Go Pios!

  3. High sticking, no goal, & should have been a penalty. What’s it cost to have NCHC referees’ change an obviously correct call?

    1. “We all know a business degree from Arizona State is just a bar towel that says ‘you read good’.” – Peyton Manning

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