TEMPE, Ariz. — One of the greatest joys of being an engaged college hockey fan is seeing your team play in road games around the country. Each new away game allows you to see how college hockey game day experiences are staged (and supported) around the country, and they also provide benchmarks to improve our own game night experience in Denver.
As a fan of the Pioneers for many decades now, I’ve been fortunate to see the Pioneers play in over 40 college, minor league, and NHL arenas, from coast to coast and in Canada. Last weekend, I added to that list the new Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU). DU had perhaps 100 fans scattered among the 5,000 fans who sold out Mullett Arena for the series last weekend, with the Pio fans cheering the DU road split over a solid top-20 ASU Sun Devil team.
I’d last seen Denver play ASU in Arizona back in December of 2019 at two of ASU’s then-temporary homes — the tiny, cold, and grim Oceanside Arena (750 seats) off-campus in Tempe and Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., a building that was too big (17,000 seats) and too far away from campus (27 miles) to effectively serve ASU’s hockey program.
Since then, ASU has built a “just right”-sized (5,000 seats) home arena on the huge ASU athletic campus, and it was certainly worth the wait. Mullett Arena opened in 2022 and cost about $140 million. Much of the funding for the new arena came from the wallet of businessman Donald Mullett, the former chairman of Bradley Corp., a Wisconsin-based family company that builds commercial/industrial safety systems. Mullett, who grew up playing pond hockey in Wisconsin, became involved with ASU hockey as the hockey parent of his son, Chris, who played on the ASU club hockey team. The family donated $32 million to ASU back in 2014 to elevate the ASU club hockey program to an NCAA Division 1 program. ASU Coach Greg Powers, the former club hockey coach at ASU, helped make that transition happen and is still the coach of what is now a playoff-level D-I program.
About $20 million of the $140 million in arena funding was provided by the Arizona Coyotes, who are temporarily playing their NHL games at Mullett (until at least 2025) as the Coyotes work to build a larger, team-owned facility closer to their fan base on the eastern side of Phoenix after losing their lease at Gila River Arena. The arena also houses ASU’s women’s gymnastics and men’s wrestling programs, and the ASU women’s club hockey program.
Mullett Arena is a game-changer for ASU, with two NHL regulation-size ice sheets (one for games, and another for ASU/NHL practice/campus & community use). The primary seating bowl uniformly surrounds most of the ice surface with individual theater seating, sufficiently raked to keep all fans close to the action with excellent sightlines, as well as a 942-seat student bleacher section at one end of the ice.
The interior arena branding is mostly ASU-focused, with the only obvious nod to the Coyote’s tenancy being the central face-off circle which features both the beloved Southwest Kachina-style Coyotes logo and the familiar ASU Sun Devils’ Trident (fork) logo (below).
Mullett Arena also has 22 corporate luxury suites, a large club lounge, and over 600 event-level club seats to serve the premium ticket portion of the fan base. The club lounge can host up to 500 fans, while another social deck (both areas are sponsored by well-known beer brands) runs the length of the east side of the venue, providing open, standing views as well as food and beverage services.
Off the ice, the arena offers the Sun Devils some 8,000 square feet of space for the ASU locker room, weight room, lounge, and coaches’ offices, while most of the Coyotes’ $20 million contribution was earmarked to create separate NHL-level off-ice facilities for the Coyotes and for NHL visiting teams. The Daktronics video scoreboard and ribbon boards are also well-executed, offering replay capability. Food and beverages on offer are the standard arena fare, with the biggest food lines in front of the “Big Chicken” stand, a fried chicken franchise fronted by former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.
Spirit-wise (in my view), the ASU game day experience is already firmly placed among the top 10 of the 50+ college game day arena experiences that I’ve seen over the years, despite ASU’s relative newness as a D-I hockey program (2015). Frankly, it is already a bit better than DU’s game day experience, despite DU’s better hockey tradition and 70-plus-year head start. Big schools like ASU have a huge built-in advantage in providing great game day experiences, as the Sun Devils have 145,000 total students, 60,000 of whom reside on or near the main campus in Tempe, which surely helps to fill out the student section and leveraging its established and widely known and followed ASU sports brand from its Pac-12 football and basketball programs. The “Mullett Maniacs” hockey student section is already excellent, and they are powered by the “942Crew”, a student group that organizes cheering and student turnouts for ASU’s spectator sports.
The ASU game day starts at the plaza in front of Mullett under tall palm trees, with an outdoor DJ blaring, some food and drink options, cornhole, and other lawn games. Inside, the Mullett student section is bleacher/all-standing, and The “Mullett Maniacs” are decked out in ASU gear and already know how to bring the noise and ‘creative’ cheers – not nasty, but not saints either. They are backed by a loud and accomplished ASU drumline, as well as a thumping arena sound system that prompts noise generation and student singing of songs like “Mr. Brightside.” The ASU school spirit is visually accented by Sparky, the Iconic Sun Devil Mascot, and the PAC-12 quality spirit squads, both in the student sections, and uniformed skating ‘ice girls” who shovel the ice during stoppages in play…It’s a big-time collegiate experience.
As a proponent of growing the game of college hockey and solidifying the NCHC as a premier conference through expansion, I’ve long maintained the addition of Arizona State to the NCHC is a home-run decision. ASU will join the NCHC conference next season (2024-25), adding a major top 50 Division I brand in college sports, the 11th largest TV market in the nation, and the largest on-campus enrollment in the country to the NCHC. In addition, ASU has quickly become a top 20 hockey program at the Division I (ranked #14 as I write this) level, attracting quality players from all over the hockey world.
Once joining the NCHC next year, ASU will be assigned to play in a three-team geographic partner scheduling pod which includes Denver and Colorado College, meaning that DU will face ASU for four games each regular season, with a guaranteed home-and-home series in Tempe and Denver. This yearly occurrence will be a great opportunity for a very attractive warm-weather road trip destination for DU alumni and fans around the country, and especially convenient for those Pioneer alumni and fans residing in Arizona.
Bravo and welcome to the NCHC, ASU.
We can already see a DU-ASU rivalry forming!
Puck Swami is a longtime DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views here periodically at LetsGoDU.