Update: NCHC May Benefit from Arizona State’s First D1 Season

Photo: New York Times

Their first season as a DI hockey program, the Arizona State Sun Devils are true road warriors with only five home games at Oceanside Ice Arena, their 41-year-old home rink which seats 800. They also have scheduled some games and tournaments at Gila River Arena in Glendale, home of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, and expect to play more games there in the coming seasons until they build their own on-campus arena.

In the throes of a 9 game losing streak, the Sun Devils are 5-15-0 with a roster packed with 15 freshmen and a number of Canadians. This past weekend they hosted the Desert Hockey Classic with Yale, Connecticut, and Michigan Tech. Unsurprisingly, the Sun Devils dropped both of their games.

With only 10 months to build this season’s schedule, head coach Gary Powers at one point thought his team would be lucky to have 10 Division I games. However, this season the Sun Devils ended up with 25 D1 opponents on a 38-game schedule that includes club, Division II and Division III teams.

Arizona State is starting to see the effects of travel on their student athletes. As the only Pacific-12 university with a Division I hockey team, Arizona State has a crazy travel schedule. For example, they logged 9,500 air miles over 10 days in October for games in Alaska and Connecticut, with a stopover in Arizona long enough for the players to attend two days of classes. Not exactly an ideal situation for student athletes.

Playing in the Big 10, assumed by some to be their conference of choice, is far from convenient with no logical geographic or cultural connections to Arizona. There are other suitors for ASU, though. Only one day after Arizona State announced they were moving from a club program to an NCAA Division I men’s hockey program, WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson confirmed the league’s interest in bringing the Sun Devils into his conference. They have been the most public conference courting ASU – practically begging them to join their league. Also, should the NCHC get Arizona State, there is a strong possibility that the NCHC will also dip into the WCHA to balance their schedule with one more team – likely Minnesota State or Bowling Green.

In an article in the New York Times, Powers said, “People want to see college hockey grow. We’re the 60th team. There needs to be more. The expansion has to go west. It’s on us to make sure we do this right and we have success.” With Air Force (AHA) and NCHC members  Denver, UNO and Colorado College in their neighborhood, there is a good case that can be made by the NCHC for membership in college hockey’s premier conference.

According to NCAA.com, Arizona State has met with the WCHA and NCHC and soon will meet with the Big Ten. A decision isn’t expected until the spring, but Powers indicated that will be accelerated because recruits deserve to know where they will be playing.

“It’s nice to be wanted and pursued,” said Powers, 39. “They’re all great options. The WCHA has a great, rich history and they’ve been aggressive. You want to go really where you’re wanted. The NCHC is arguably the best conference in college hockey right now and there’s an advantage going to the best conference. Ideally, you’d have a leg up on getting the best players. And the Big Ten is full of like-minded universities like us, big state schools with brand recognition, so you can make a case for any one of the three.”

After the conference decision, starting membership in 2017 or 2018, Powers is confident they will be established, competitive and have a bona fide, state-of-the-art arena of their own by then.