Photo courtesy Sun Devil Athletics
The No. 3 ranked Denver Pioneers will be going head-to-head with the Arizona State Sun Devils this weekend…at Magness Arena…on a sheet of ice. Yes, that’s the first time you’ve heard that before. The Sun Devils are officially a full Division I NCAA ice hockey program starting this season, 2016-17, after going through a transition season last year.
They didn’t get off to the hottest start this season after losing 11 of their first 13 games, but have since been able to right the ship going 5-2 to finish the first half before going 0-1-1 in the Desert Hockey Classic this past weekend. The Sun Devils’ record (7-14-1) isn’t nearly as important as their journey to get to Division I, though.
It’s fairly well-known that college hockey has been trying to grow the game out west over the last few years. The only question was where first?
College club hockey has been a hot commodity west of the Mississippi for some time now with every Pac-12 school now supporting a team. ASU won its first ever American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national championship during the 2013-14 season after putting together continuous successful seasons under head coach Greg Powers, who has maintained his position after moving to the NCAA. That gave donors enough confidence to invest $32 million into making Arizona State a Division I program.
The battles that ASU faced during convergence were Title IX, finding a conference, and finding/building an arena to play in. Title IX is the bill that was enacted in order to ensure athletic programs have the same number of women’s teams as the men. Arizona State solved this problem by adding both a women’s lacrosse and women’s triathlon team with the same $32 million dollar donation.
For now, the Sun Devils are playing their games at Oceanside Arena on campus, which only holds 747 people, and play their bigger games at Gila River Arena in Glendale, where the Arizona Coyotes play their games. On Nov. 14, 2016 the Coyotes announced plans for a new 16,000-seat arena in Tempe, Ariz and a 4,000-seat arena adjacent to it which will house the Sun Devils. From the Coyotes website, “The second arena will be utilized by Sun Devils Athletics, Coyotes practices, youth hockey practices and games and community events. These two new additional sheets of ice will continue to help grow the sport at the grass-roots level. In the future, a new hotel and other related amenities will be finalized as part of the second phase of the project.”
The Sun Devils are currently participating in college hockey as an independent with a conference announcement expected soon…we all know how that process has gone. It looks like ASU will either play in the WCHA or the NCHC, two conferences that the Pioneers are very familiar with. With a lot of talk swirling around it does not seem as if Arizona State will move into the NCHC with the NCHC’s commissioner Josh Fenton going on record saying, “Moving forward [with the addition of ASU] wasn’t in the best interest of the conference right now.”
This weekend will be a fantastic weekend for both the Sun Devils and the Pioneers. The Sun Devils will get to play in one of the biggest college hockey markets out west, which will certainly help to expand their brand and the Pioneers will have the opportunity to play inexperienced hockey team and hopefully gain some momentum as they start to head down the stretch of the college hockey season.