TEMPE, Ariz. -- There is now no question as to who is the ACHA's best team.
Arizona State and defending national champion Minot State had flip-flopped the nation's top ranking all season long. This week, the Beavers overtook the Sun Devils, despite ASU's undefeated record.
This setup a clash of the titans on Thursday night in Tempe, and when the snow settled, ASU had retaken what was recently theirs.
The Sun Devils used outstanding third period defense and another superb goaltending effort from Robert Levin to propel them to a 2-1 victory in the type of evenly matched, physical affair one would expect from the nation's two top teams.
The drama in this game started almost instantly.
Just 15 seconds into the game, Minot State's Brett McNevin fired a shot that appeared to go in and off the rear crossbar. However, the referees quickly waved it off while the Beaver players celebrated unaware of the decision. After a brief discussion, the ruling held, and the game continued.
Fired up over their perceived slight, Minot State controlled the first half of the period, but the ASU defense was able to hold off any quality scoring chances.
Slowly, the tide turned in ASU's favor, and they soon were able to break the stalemate. Faiz Khan gained possession in the corner in the Minot State zone and fired a perfect pass to a streaking Colin Hekle deep in the slot. Hekle knocked it past goalie Wyatt Waselenchuk for the period's only goal.
ASU soon doubled their lead early in the second period.
Sun Devil forward Michael Cummings was on the receiving end of a well-executed give-and-go from Brett Prechel, and beat Waselenchuk stickside. But the defending national champs quickly cut that lead in half, as Beaver captain Michael Jordan beat Levin just 42 seconds after the Sun Devil goal.
Both defenses held firm for the duration of the period, setting up a thrilling third period.
The Sun Devil defense was without key defenseman Alex Temby, but the remaining blueliners were excellent. Stout play in the defensive zone, coupled with an aggressive and effective forecheck from the ASU forwards, held the Beavers to just eight shots in the period, and none were quality chances.
Minot State tried to pull Waselenchuk repeatedly for the extra attacker, but the ASU forecheck kept the puck in the Beaver zone until it was too late.
In the battle of the ACHA's two top-rated goalies, Levin came out on top. He made 29 saves to improve to 9-0-0, and he raised his ACHA-leading save percentage to an astounding .962. Waselenchuk was equally outstanding on the night, stopping 31 ASU shots, but his record fell to 6-0-1.
ASU moves to 17-0-0 on the year, and will now host Williston State for a weekend series on Friday and Saturday, with a 7:30 p.m. start time on each night.
1st - ASU, 8:05: Hekle (15), assist Khan
2nd - ASU, 16:36: Cummings (5), assist Prechel
2nd - MSU, 15:54: Jordan (4), assist Johnson