ASU hockey’s NCAA Tourney berth made program history


The Arizona State hockey team is out of postseason play, eliminated in last weekend’s regional semifinal by Quinnipiac University.

But just the fact that the Sun Devils were even in the NCAA Tournament is a noteworthy accomplishment for a brand-new program that was added as a varsity sport in time for the 2016 season.

The Sun Devils posted a 21-12-1 regular-season record in their fourth season playing as a varsity sport and third season playing a full NCAA schedule.  That’s more wins than their previous two seasons combined, a total of 18 over that period.

Add to that the distinction of being the fastest start-up program in Division I history to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  They jumped 43 spots in the Pairwise rankings from last season, from 53 to No. 10, to post the biggest improvement in college hockey.

There are six teams, those that won their conference tournaments, that automatically qualify for the NCAA hockey tournament, a system similar to basketball.  ASU is playing as an independent, so they were unable to get into the Big Dance as an automatic qualifier.  Instead, they had to rely on getting a bid based on their Pairwise rankings, which uses a combination of ratings percentage index, their record against common opponents, and their head-to-head record.

Unfortunately, the N0. 14-ranked Sun Devils had the bad fortune to draw an opening game with No. 8 Quinnipiac, the No. 2 regional seed.  Quinnipiac, from Hamden, Ct., made it into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2013, when they made it all the way to the finals, and then finished runner-up again in 2016.  The Bobcat win bumps their series record against ASU to 4-1-1.

Give the Devils credit; they managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit when Brinson Pasichnuk let loose a slapshot from the top of the slot to cut the Bobcats’ lead in half.  There were still eight minutes left in the game at that point, and ASU had several opportunities to add a tying goal, but Quinnipiac (26-9-2) was able to hold off the Devils, and the 2-1 score held for the Bobcat victory.

Pasichnuk, a junior defenseman from Canada, earned his place in the ASU history books by scoring the program’s first postseason goal.

Head coach Greg Powers also has a place in the program’s annals, a link to the Sun Devil program that goes back to the late ’90s when he was a goalie for the ASU club hockey team.  He returned to his alma mater in 2008 to become an assistant coach for the club team, and two years later was named the head coach.  In 2014, he led the Sun Devils to a national championship.

And next year, his team will really begin to feel like it has arrived in the big time.  A new sports complex that will include an ice arena is scheduled for completion before next season.  The team has been renting ice time at nearby Oceanside Ice Arena, but is in sore need of additional seating to accommodate more than the 1,000 fans Oceanside can currently provide.  The new arena on campus will have seating for 5,000.

Now that the program has shown what it can do on the national stage, it’s definitely time for a top-drawer facility that will provide a powerful new recruiting tool.

Powers has laid the foundation.  And now the school is stepping up to build a new home to showcase the team’s success.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)