ASU hockey plays first game as NCAA program tonight

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                </div>  OK, we found out over the weekend that the newly-minted Division I ice hockey team at Arizona State can put fannies in the seats. Tonight we find out whether […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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OK, we found out over the weekend that the newly-minted Division I ice hockey team at Arizona State can put fannies in the seats.

Tonight we find out whether the Sun Devils can put the puck through the net as they make history by playing their first game as a D-I program.  Last November, ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson announced that the school was taking a huge leap of faith by elevating its club hockey team to a varsity program, thus becoming the only college in this part of the country to field a varsity ice hockey team.

Last Saturday the hockey team played an exhibition game against rival University of Arizona in the first game involving a D-I team to be played in the state since Northern Arizona University fielded a program back in 1985. Saturday’s game drew 6,396 fans.

“Great crowd,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said afterward.  “We appreciate everyone coming out; that was awesome.”  Powers was named the head coach for the new varsity program after serving as the team’s head coach while it was a club sport, leading it to a No. 1 national ranking and a national title last season.  He joined the coaching staff as an assistant in 2008 and took over as head coach two years later.

The game against the UofA meant little since the Wildcats still have club status, playing in the non-varsity American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) to which ASU belonged until this year.  And the 8-1 final score was not surprising since the Sun Devils have won 48 out of the 49 times in their Cactus Cup meetings.  The Devils out-shot Arizona, 49-9, and won 68 percent of the face-offs.

But it was, nonetheless, history in the making: the first game for ASU as a full-fledged NCAA program and the first NCAA game played at Gila River Arena in Glendale, the home of the NHL Arizona Coyotes.  Junior defenseman Connor Schmidt had the honor of scoring the first goal of the new era, an unassisted score just over seven minutes into the game.  And a freshman, forward Jack Rowe, scored the next two.

That probably shouldn’t be too surprising; this is a very young team.  There is just one senior on the squad, defenseman Jordan Young, and two graduate forwards, Liam Norris and Garrett Peterson.  Everyone else is a junior or younger.

Those three will serve as co-captains for the school’s first NCAA season.  Peterson is a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, but Young and Norris have been with the program for years.  This will be Norris’ fifth season at ASU, serving last year as alternate captain, and Young has put in four years, two of those as an alternate captain.

They’re young, but not inexperienced.  Eight on the roster have prior experience playing NCAA D-I hockey at other schools.

And they have geographic diversity.  There are five players on the roster with roots in Arizona, four of which played youth hockey in Scottsdale, but there are also 13 states and four Canadian provinces represented.

We’ll see tonight whether they can put it all together.  They had to travel 2,500 miles for their first games, taking on teams from the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.  The games are part of the Kendall Hockey Classic, held in Anchorage at the university’s Sullivan Arena.

There weren’t any booster caravans traveling to this one.  The Devils are on their own for their coming-out party.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)