Historic start: ASU ice hockey begins as varsity sport

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                </div>  The Arizona State men’s ice hockey team was standing on top of the college sports world in 2014 when it was crowned national champion by the American Collegiate Hockey […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The Arizona State men’s ice hockey team was standing on top of the college sports world in 2014 when it was crowned national champion by the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

That title was earned after the No. 1-seeded Sun Devils beat Robert Morris, 3-1, in the championship game to wrap up the best season ever in the history of the program, finishing 38-2 overall, earning a No. 1 national ranking during the season, and bringing home the school’s first national title in the sport.

That Sun Devil team was playing as an independent in Division I ACHA, a non-scholarship club sport not recognized by the NCAA.

But all that has changed.   Last November ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson announced that the school was taking a huge leap of faith by becoming the only college in this part of the country that will be fielding a varsity hockey program this year.

A game with Connecticut on Jan. 5 will mark the first NCAA home game in ASU history.

There are just 59 colleges with an NCAA Division I hockey team, and none in the West Coast region of the country. According to information from media relations in the ASU athletic department, there hasn’t been a college hockey team in this part of the country for more than a quarter century.

And Penn State was the last college in the nation to elevate their hockey program from the club level to NCAA participation, back in 2012.

It’s a huge step, even for a university as large as ASU, and would not have happened without the help of a $32 million donation from a group of donors led by Milwaukee businessman Don Mullett, whose son Chris had played at ASU.

That financial commitment was necessary to make the move since the club program was not financed by ASU, operating on a meager $250,000 annual budget.  Now program costs will skyrocket and have to be covered by ASU, along with the 22 other NCAA-sponsored programs offered by the school.

The next step was to hire a head coach, and that proved to be a simple matter.  Greg Powers, who coached the team to that No. 1 national ranking and a national title, was named to take the reins of the inaugural program during the 2015-16 school year.  Powers has no coaching experience, other than in the ACHA, but has a maroon and gold pedigree and proven experience with the Sun Devil hockey program.

A three-time All-American goalie during his college career at ASU, he joined the coaching staff in 2008 as an assistant and was given the head-coaching job in 2010.  In those five seasons he has posted a 164-27-9 record and won eight of the 12 games the Devils have played in the national tournament.

As Powers took the program to new heights, it increased the attention it was receiving around the country.  A year or so ago he said he was being contacted by more than 2,000 players each year who were interested in getting on the bandwagon, many of them from the tradition-rich East Coast and Midwest, as well as Canada.

That was when he was coaching an ACHA program.  No telling how those calls and emails will grow now.