UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Dropped Spirited Affair Against #1 Ranked Huskies

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a split of a weekend in Omaha, the University of North Dakota came home on Friday for their last season in a month at The Ralph and it would be no easy task for the Fighting Hawks, as they took on the top-ranked St. Cloud St. Huskies for the weekend. There was a buzz in the arena that I personally haven’t felt since Minnesota came to town last year, which was a welcome change for a game of this profile. However, most of the 11,608 were sent home disappointed, as St. Cloud beat UND 3-1 on Friday night.

While the first part of the opening frame was a feeling out process, North Dakota had a slight advantage in their offensive zone in the first half of the period. Nick Jones opened up the scoring for UND with a rebound from a Jordan Kawaguchi shot that hit off the backboards, flicking a backhand off SCSU’s David Hranek and into the net for the 1-0 lead. The best chance for SCSU came when UND’s Hayden Shaw turned the puck over in his own zone to give Patrick Newell a mini-break on Adam Scheel. Scheel– however, was equal to the task, flashing the glove to preserve the 1-0 lead at the end of the period.

Another back and forth period, but business picked up when St. Cloud appeared to tie up the game, as the puck bounced and appeared to bounce over the goal line, but after review– the evidence was inconclusive, which kept the game tied up at one. However, St. Cloud atoned for that when after a power play, Micah Miller got a cross-ice pass from Nolan Walker  and put it five-hole on Scheel to tie the game with 13.7 left in the frame.

St. Cloud showed off why they were the top-ranked team in the nation in the third, controlling the play in the neutral and offensive zone, moving the puck around to create several chances for themselves to break the tie. Luckily for UND, Scheel and the shot-blockers got in the way of many pucks to hold the tie. After UND killed another crucial penalty, Nolan Walker picked Colton Poolman’s pocket behind the net, slid a pass across to Patrick Newell, who beat a sprawling Scheel to make it a 2-1 Huskies lead.

Colton Poolman/Photo by Jen Conway

“I accept responsibility for that second goal,” an emotional Poolman said after the game. “I owe my teammates better to be more focused at a critical juncture in the game like that. That’s where it went sideways, so I accept responsibility for that.”

Later in the period, Grant Mismash took a hit by Jimmy Schuldt and was down on the ice in pain, but got a penalty for slashing the stick out of Schuldt’s hand. No penalty was given to Schuldt, as the refs told UND coach Brad Berry that they deemed the hit to be clean. A hit like that is reviewable by the referees, but neither decided to go to the scorer’s table to review it.

“I am very, very disappointed,” said Berry. “I’m not going to get in any trouble by making a comment, but that was a knee-on-knee play that should have been reviewed. We have a protocol in place and it was reviewed and I’m very disappointed. It’s not the result of the game I’m alluding to, it’s one of those things where you know when anything is 50/50 in a game like that, it’s got to get reviewed. We have that in our protocol.”

When asked about Mismash’s status for tomorrow, Berry simply said, “He’ll be out.”

As UND pulled the goalie, Blake Lizotte fired it into the open net to give SCSU the 3-1 win. Though, after the hit– you could see the emotion rising, plenty of activity after the whistle and in the penalty boxes, as well with both SCSU and UND players yelling at each other between the boxes. This should be a great precursor for the game on Saturday night.

UND HOCKEY: Another Night of Free Hockey, Another Two Points for North Dakota

GRAND FORKS, ND– Following an overtime victory last night, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks looked to add another notch in the win column and complete the weekend sweep of Colorado College. It would be a bit of a different look for UND, as Gabe Bast was out of the line-up due to a suspension from his hit on Alex Berardinelli. The team was also hampered with a sick goalie, as Adam Scheel came to the rink in the morning under the weather and not at 100%. However, he made a quick recovery to help the Fighting Hawks sweep the Tigers with a Saturday night victory in overtime.

Hayden Shaw got the Hawks out to a quick start with Jordan Kawaguchi finding Shaw streaking down the slot and put it bottom right corner on Alex Leclerc just 1:18 into the game. While UND did get some chances on the power play, it wasn’t until they were down a man that they would get their second goal, as Andrew Peski’s clearing attempt was picked up by Dixon Bowen, who streaked in to beat Leclerc under the blocker side to make it 2-0.

Dixon Bowen/Photo by Jen Conway

“Finally nice to get that monkey off my back,” Bowen said. “It’s funny because in practice when I try to deke, I never score and the boys make fun of me in practice and say I’m a shooter. So I was like okay, I’m gonna just shoot this one and it went in.”

Colorado College would open up the scoring the second with a shorthanded goal of their own as Adam Scheel kicked out a rebound off a Grand Cruikshank shot to the stick of Westin Michaud and cutting the lead to one. Colorado College could have had two more goals, but both were called off– first for goalie interference and then as the puck when in just hundredths of a second after time had expired.

The Tigers did even it up, as Cole McCaskill made a fantastic stretch pass to Trey Bradley, who broke in behind the defense and beat Scheel far-glove side to even it up at two. North Dakota kept the pressure on, sustaining pressure on Leclerc and playing with patience– though you could argue too much patience. With no goals to be scored after Bradley’s equalizer, we got another night of free hockey.

The free hockey didn’t last long, as just 50 seconds into the free frame, Nick Jones’s forecheck proved to be as deadly as usual, gaining possession behind the goal-line, trying to wrap it around, but getting blocked. Luckily, Jordan Kawaguchi was streaking in to put home the game-winner for UND in order to sweep the weekend.

“Honestly, I just blacked out the whole play,” said Kawaguchi post-game. “I remember seeing the puck and trying to get it towards the open net. Jonesy made a helluva play.”

A few years back, it was a different scene as the BCHL alums were jawing at each other on different sides of the puck in the playoffs. However, the combination of them both at UND has proved to be a solid match for the Fighting Hawks.

“It’s kind of ironic they’re playing together right now,” mentioned head coach Brad Berry. “They both came from very good, storied programs and they were very dominant players for each of them. There’s not a lot of love loss between them. But that’s the beauty of North Dakota. I remember years back, players coming in from different leagues and there was real animosity. But when you get together, you’re a teammate and your goal is to win a National Championship.”

The Fighting Hawks will take this sweep in stride as they prepare to travel to Omaha to face the Mavericks next week in yet another NCHC battle.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Need Extra Time to Topple Tigers

GRAND FORKS, ND– After a weekend that saw them throw everything and the kitchen sink against their opponent, but still only able to muster two goals in the weekend; the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks needed to rebound quick, as NCHC play started back up in full force. This weekend, they welcomed the Colorado College Tigers into The Ralph and used almost every minute of regulation and overtime to get a 4-3 win on the first game of the weekend.

It took until halfway through the first for UND to solve Alex Leclerc and it took a power play to do so. After the two-man advantage was killed, Nick Jones got the puck down low from Jacob Bernard-Docker and somehow was able to find space where there didn’t seem to be any over the shoulder of Leclerc to make it 1-0 for the Hawks. While UND did have a shot advantage in the first of 11-7, they seemed to have better quality chances against Leclerc than Colorado College had against Adam Scheel.

After plenty of sustained pressure in the zone, Andrew Peski’s shot from the point went off of Colorado’s Zach Berzolla and past Leclerc to make it 2-0 for the Hawks. Colorado College cut the lead in half after a power play goal by Westin Michaud– who drew the penalty– as his shot trickled past Scheel despite the UND goalie getting a glove on it– but couldn’t stop the momentum afterwards.

Under three minutes into the third, Colorado College tied it up after Erik Middendorf picked up the puck off a blocked shot and put it past a scrambling Scheel. Off the goal, Gabe Bast leveled Colorado’s Alex Berardinelli, which resulted in Berardinelli needing help off the ice, as Bast got a five-minute major and ten-minute misconduct for targeting the head. Less than thirty seconds into the power play, former North Dakota forward Chris Wilkie put home his fourth of the season with a wicked shot from the top of the circle and put the Tigers up for the first time in the game, though it was the only goal on the extended power play. With almost five minutes to play, UND got back on the board, as Jordan Kawaguchi tipped home a Nick Jones slap-pass/skate tip shot to knot the game at three, which led to overtime.

Jordan Kawaguchi/Photo by Jen Conway

“I didn’t see anyhing,” said Kawaguchi post-game. “I just went to the net with my stick on the ice. I don’t know if Nick’s shot would have gotten in or not, but just going to the net with my stick on the ice. It’s something coach has been talking about, getting into the dirty areas and goals will come.”

Just when it looked like it would go to a shootout to see who got the extra NCHC point, Ludvig Hoff tipped a Jacob Bernard-Docker point shot over Leclerc’s shoulder to give UND the overtime win by a score of 4-3.

“It was huge for a lot of reasons,” remarked head coach Brad Berry. “First of all, get back in the win column. Second climbing the standings in the NCHC, Pairwise is a big thing. But the morale of the group here. You’re working hard all year and in the end, sometimes you don’t get rewarded. We got rewarded tonight.”

UND is hoping that the rewards continue and try to finish the weekend with four points on Saturday night.

TEPID TAKE(S): Garbage Jerseys, Shrinking Ice, Flyers Goalies

Adidas unveiled the All-Star Game jerseys, which are garbage. Legit garbage. The jersey makers have partnered again with Parley for Oceans to make jerseys out of plastic debris out of the oceans. It has been done before with MLS and now will come to the NHL All-Star Game in San Jose.

When comparing to past ASG jerseys, they’re underwhelming, of course, because they’re not flashy. From what JonnyP has told me, it has to be that way due to the thread used to keep it all together. Fair enough and in all honesty, it’s the All-Star Game and while specialty jerseys are suppose to have some kind of flash to them, this is a good cause. Plus, on the broadcast, it’ll give an old-time feel of black-and-white TV.

More over, it’s a nice nod to the MLB jerseys where players wear their own teams logo on it. While the jersey itself isn’t the template specific, the fact that it’ll be more than just a shoulder patch logo is pretty damn cool. You can’t buy just a generic jersey and slap together whatever you want– you need to know what team you want before you buy it– so that’s something.


Rene Fasel was talking about things again. This time, the IIHF President for Life was talking about how the federation is looking into shifting the sizes of rinks for international competition away from the set-up of 200-feet by 100-feet to the NHL standard of 200-by-85, which is in no way an attempt to get the NHL back into the Beijing Olympics in 2022.

No, Fasel said that it would be more for the fans and help bring more excitement and emotion thanks to smaller confines…and in no way to squeeze another row of seats into the arena.

Listen, unless the other European federations are going to shrink their rinks and the leagues around the world are going to put up with this whole thing, this just seems like a silly idea. Sure, the European fans have a total different look as the NHL/North American fans– but the fun with Olympics and World Championships is the bigger ice surface to have more space and have skill and actual systems come through.

I’m not fully convinced it’s to appease the NHL and their overlords because the fact the World Juniors is played on NHL-size ice every three of four years and then a random European rink is a little annoying– but don’t change the systems wholly because of one Olympics that the NHL didn’t want to go to because of reasons (money).


Mike McKenna won’t be the last different goalie to start for the Philadelphia Flyers. Thanks to his start in Washington on Tuesday, McKenna helped the Flyers tie the record for most starting goalies used in a season (Quebec in 1989-90, 2002-03 St. Louis Blues, and 2007-08 LA Kings) as the sixth different starter in a season.

We’re only midway through the season, there’s plenty of more goalies to go through, and the Flyers still have the trade deadline, waiver wires, and the inevitable injury that’ll happen to Carter Hart or McKenna to look forward to.

The Flyers are 13th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, while they’re last in the league in goal differential with a minus-61. Are the goalies the biggest woe for the Flyers?? Maybe, but it proves that just removing the GM and head coach wasn’t the quick fix some thought it would be. Might it hamper Hart’s development?? Perhaps– especially since the Flyers haven’t been able to bring along a homegrown goalie since Ron Hextall back in the ’80s.

On Face Off Hockey Show, we put the over/under at 8.5 for goalies who have started for the Flyers this season. You have to think that maybe some minor league goalie gets pluck off of waivers by the Flyers or Branden Komm gets a call-up late in the season because the hell with it. For me, I’m taking the over all day, everyday.

My Wishes for the Battle of Atlanta in Regina

We all know this won’t happen. The NHL won’t let this happen. The Winnipeg Jets won’t let this happen. But I want the #BattleOfAtlanta to go down in a big, big was in October for the Heritage Classic game in Regina between the Flames and Jets.

Both teams are formerly of Atlanta. The real issue stems with one team actually caring about their heritage, whereas the other wants to think this is a Cleveland Browns situations– in that they keep the records of the team that relocated.

Word to the wise– the Winnipeg Jets are the Atlanta Thrashers and hold all the Atlanta Thrashers records. The franchise leader in points for the Winnipeg Jets is Ilya Kovalchuk with 615 points. Dany Heatley holds the record for goals and points by a rookie. These are Winnipeg Jets legends by proxy. Dale Hawerchuk, Bob Essensa, Teemu Selanne– all those records belong to the Arizona Coyotes. Even dumb, idiot, blowhard bloggers from six years ago say the Jets are the Thrashers.

Okay– with that all out of the way: the only way to play this is to have the Flames wear the classic Atlanta Flames jerseys. They already have the template with their third jerseys and with this game being about Heritage…it only makes sense. Like I said before, the Flames incorporated their Atlanta roots many times, including putting the old logo as an alternate captain letter.

Powder blue is something that the Jets should wear as the Thrashers– it would help that color clash people enjoy. Plus, they already incorporate that in their alternate jerseys now– which is a nice step for them bringing back the Thrashers garb for one night only.

(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Musical act is Lil’ Jon– point blank period. Not because he’s an Atlanta guy, but it’s because he’s someone who has held the torch for Atlanta hockey since the Flames played at the Omni. He was a great ambassador for the Thrashers and really help bring more pop culture into the game when it was looking for it. So much impact that Kari Lehtonen put him on the back of his mask.

So it’s set– this is what it should be, especially if we’re talking about a HERITAGE CLASSIC. Before you get where you’re going, you’ve gotta know where you’ve been. That’s what it’s all about– knowing both teams came from Atlanta to Canada in different generations. Time to mesh them.

And honestly– to the people who might be butt-hurt over this (probably Jets fans who are defensive of their identity and want to believe 1996-2011 didn’t happen); if you liked the Hurricanes becoming the Whalers for one night– why can’t you enjoy the Jets becoming the Thrashers for one night?? It’s all in the name of fun, right?? All the nostalgia is great right??

You might not like it, but I’m sure there’s a lot more people who would. It’s the history of the team and regardless of what you try– it’s not going away. Preserve history rather than put it under the rug and then you can enjoy things rather than being overly uptight.

#BattleOfAtlanta

Battle of Atlanta Kicks Off Specialty Games for 2019-20

In light of another Chicago Blackhawks outdoor game, the NHL revealed locations for some of their specialty games coming up for the 2019-20 season.

First, the Heritage Classic will come back and take place in Regina, Saskatchewan on October 26. In what I’ll be calling “The Battle of Atlanta” the former Atlanta Flames will take on the former Atlanta Thrashers– with the Calgary Flames taking on the Winnipeg Jets. It’ll be the fifth Heritage Classic and first since 2016 in Winnipeg. With both teams on the rise in their divisions, it should prove to be an interesting match-up, especially early in the season.

Second, the NHL put forth next year’s Winter Classic, but this time in Dallas’s Cotton Bowl, as the Dallas Stars will host and unnamed opponent– which, if it’s not the Minnesota Wild, it’ll be a huge narrative disrupting event. Surprising that it’s not being held in JerryWorld at AT&T Stadium, as it would go with the NHL wanting a big venue for these events.

St. Louis will be the 2020 All-Star Game host for the third time (1970 and 1988 being the prior ones) through the weekend of January 24th until the 26th. We’ll be waiting with bated-breathe to see if Nelly and the St. Lunatics show up with Fred Brathwaite like they did in the “Welcome to Atlanta” remix.

Finally, the NHL also announced another Stadium Series game at a military academy, with the Colorado Avalanche hosting a game at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium. Another game with no opponent, but hopefully the NHL will keep getting closer and closer to their goal of holding a game at West Point after going through two other military academies already.

Is there one better than the other?? Do you even care about the amount of outdoor games anymore?? Leave a comment or something to let me know….or don’t, I get paid the same either way.

On the Topic Of Utica, Vancouver, and Affiliation Distance

When the westward move of the AHL began and many of the Western Conference teams started to move their affiliations, people thought it was a matter of time before the Vancouver Canucks moved their affiliation out of Utica, New York for a closer destination.

Saturday’s announcement put a damper on that idea, at least until the 2020-21 season. That’s because the Canucks and Comets agreed to a new six-year affiliation extension; though it has an option for the Canucks after two seasons to depart upstate New York for somewhere else.

Business wise, Utica is great with president Robert Esche having built a great entertainment outlet. They’re in the midst of a 133-game sellout streak that started in April 2015, while they have been producing plenty of talent of the retooling Canucks– including head coach Travis Green. On the ice, it’s been solid as well with a 193-136-35-16, though the team only has two playoff appearances in the five full seasons the two teams have been affiliated. The Comets haven’t had a season under 35 wins, either.

Obviously, the distance between Utica and Vancouver is something that should be a worry when it comes to call-ups. However, does moving a team closer to the Canucks, namely the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia, make sense when the AHL has tried and failed once before?? Of course, you can say the shortcomings of the Abbotsford Heat was the Calgary Flames being in Canucks territory– but would people actually be enthused to have AHL hockey when the NHL team is maybe an hour away??

Hockey fans can be fickle, so maybe seeing the future of the team may not be as good as seeing the team itself. Plus, when you’re the Canucks and own the Comets (leasing it to Esche and Utica), the fact that money and loyalty keeps rolling in up in Utica, you don’t want to kill that golden goose when it’s making profit. Plus, maybe keeping the young players away from the cutthroat media and possible extreme expectations that would come with being closer to the Canucks may be best for development of some players to be able to learn the system first before having it dissected by everyone in the Vancouver area.

It’s always a struggle when it comes to situations like this. You don’t want to move an affiliation when it’s working so well on the business and hockey side of things, but you also don’t want to have your prospects so far away in a place that’s not a major airline hub that it cuts into the roster of the NHL team. The Canucks have a delicate balancing act they’re doing, but as of right now– they seem to be winning out thus far with the marriage they have in Utica.

UND HOCKEY: Fighting Hawks Shake Off Rust in Exhibition Win

GRAND FORKS, ND– After three weeks off, the University of North Dakota came back to shake off the rust of the holiday season with an exhibition game against the US National Under-18 Team. It was a bit of a look into the future with UND, as two prospects for the Fighting Hawks were in the U-18 line-up in forward Judd Caulfield and goalie Cameron Rowe. Though coming into the game, the U-18s were 6-6 against NCAA Division teams, they were downed by the Fighting Hawks 6-2 in the exhibition.

It was a special game, as UND busted out a Fighting Sioux jerseys to honor the 1958-59 team, the first ever National Champion for UND. It’s the first time the team has wore a jersey with “Sioux” on it since 2012 after the nickname was dropped by the school due to NCAA rules.

After a flurry of offense from Team USA to start the first period, UND was the first to strike on the power play, after Jacob Bernard-Docker (JBD) set-up Rhett Gardner on a one-timer to put it past Rowe and give UND the early lead. The Hawks got up two when Grant Mismash crashed the net off a USA turnover and a Nick Jones cycle, put a shot on net, with Ludvig Hoff finding the rebound and putting it through Rowe’s five-hole to make it 2-0.

Just 90 seconds into the second, Matthew Boldy put the U18s on the board after pickpocketing Mismash in the UND zone, poked just barely off Patrick Moynihan’s shinpad, went in on a mini-breakaway before going forehand-backhand to go five-hole Adam Scheel. UND got the two-goal lead back midway through the period, after Jackson Keane drove into the zone, missed the net, but picked up the loose puck to find Casey Johnson; who then went near-side high-glove on Rowe to make it 3-1 UND. The Fighting Hawks made it 4-1 on the power play after some fancy passing in the zone, including a deflected pass, led to a Mismash goal with Jones and JBD getting assists on the goal.

The Hawks swapped out goalies, as Peter Thome came into the game to start the third, while Ryan Anderson finished. In only 16 minutes, Thome faced 18 shots and only gave up one goal.

Peter Thome/ Photo by Jen Conway

“It’s always interesting when you get thrown in there and kind of under siege right away,” Thome said. “I was able to get the first one and then the second on and kept trying to go from there. I just tried to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead.”

Collin Adams made it 5-1 halfway through the third from a great set-up from beside the net from Joel Janatuinen, putting it past Rowe’s glove. Alex Turcotte cut the deficit to 5-2 after tipping home a Boldy shot from the top of the circle, after Gabe Bast took a holding penalty. Gavin Hain made it 6-2 with an empty net goal from an alley-oop pass by Matt Kiersted with Thome getting a secondary assist on the goal.

For Thome, who hasn’t had the best season thus far, going 1-3-0 with a 3.75 GAA and .838 save percentage. His last action was during UND’s 5-0 loss a month ago against Duluth. For him, it was a time to get a confidence boost.

“First half, personally, hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to,” Thome says. “Now, having a good first outing is definitely a step forward and hopefully there’s more to come. It’s such a mental position. If you don’t really have confidence, it seems everything can go wrong, but if you have confidence; you can do no wrong. I’m just trying to get back to that state that I’m playing my best.”

With almost a month off, the game was a little rough at times. With a long break and some holiday treats, it took some time to get things going.

“Some parts were a little slow and a little sloppy, but it’s kind of expected,” mentioned Mismash about the first game after the break. “We had a couple good practices kind of getting back in shape. It wasn’t a terrible game. We’ll ramp it up going back into the regular season.”

When asked about the exhibition games themselves, Mismash said; “I don’t want to say I feel bad for teams who hop right back into the season rather than have exhibitions, but it’s nice to get these games. Just to get a feel for it again and get your legs under you before you get going again.”

“This is one of the most skilled and fast and offensive teams that we’ve ever played against the 18s,” said UND head coach Brad Berry. “They’re record is 20-7-2 and they knocked off the #1 team in the nation the other night, so it’s one of those things we’ll take it as far as trying to get better. We have to make sure our last two non-conference games against Canisius count.”

Which is where UND heads next, as they’ll head to Buffalo, New York to take on Canisius to officially kick off their second-half of the year.

The Spengler Cup is the Best Holiday Hockey Cup

It’s holiday time, which means it’s time for the greatest tournament of them all– the Spengler Cup!! Look, I understand how people enjoy the World Junior tournament, but for me– the Spengler Cup really is the bee’s knees of holiday tournament. Some love the idea of rising talent– me?? I’m about the randomness of some of these rosters and how it’s an invitational format makes it’s quite the exclusive tournament.

To start, the Vaillant Arena in Davos could be the most scenic arena in the world. The arena itself is an old world masterpiece with half the arena being seated, the other being standing room in supporter sections, as they chant to give it an atmosphere of international soccer. I don’t have much on my bucket list, but going to the Spengler Cup is one on that list.

20.03.2017; Davos; Eishockey National League – Training HC Davos; Die Vaillant Arena in Davos (Steffen Schmidt/freshfocus)

The teams are another great thing. The hosts HC Davos have five other teams invited to the tournament…well, four other teams as Team Canada is another stalwart of this tournament. In this edition, the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of Germany (hopefully wearing Chris Sabo rec-specs as visors), KalPa Kuopio from Finland, Metallurg Magnitogorsk from Russia, and Ocelari Trinec of the Czech Republic will be taking part of the round-robin tournament. In the past, the AHL’s Rochester Americans, Dinamo Riga, Team Switzerland, and a USA Select team have participated.

The rosters are also an eye-opener when it comes to guys who are still playing. Canada’s roster is the one that’s really amazing this year with Kevin Bieksa, Torrey Mitchell, Daniel Winnik, and Dominic Moore represent the old guard, with Zach Fucale, Dante Fabbro, and Colt Conrad being the new blood. Players like Tom Gilbert, Milan Jurcina, and Anders Lindback are a few of the old NHLers making appearance here, while Sami Kapanen coaches the KalPa squad. It’s a great “Oh, hey!!” moment when you see the names of yesteryear on the ice again. Hell, this was a tournament Sergei Fedorov came back to play after being on the sidelines for a couple years. It holds that kind of stroke in the international hockey community.

While there isn’t much of a broadcasting presence in the US, there’s places you could probably go to find a feed of the game. I only with the NHL Network would show a game or ten to give this underrated tournament the respect it deserves.

Arizona State Finally Finding Their Own Footing

Photo by Heather Weikel/TheSunDevils.com

This is a team that is more than just the EXCLUSIVE GREY that they tout in their jerseys. While some will say that they haven’t faced the competition that other programs have, some of that is really not their fault. The Arizona State University Sun Devils have climbed up through the dregs of club hockey, the struggles of their first couple of years in Division I, and now are 13-6-0 at the end of the semester, have the leading goal-scorer in the NCAA (Sophomore Johnny Walker with 17), and have beaten some names in college hockey. 

It’s a welcome change from the first three years of the program, who had a total of 21 wins in their first three seasons. They already have a franchise-high 13 wins, though after the semester break, they have quite the schedule with Clarkson, either Duluth or Mankato, Boston University, Boston College, and Cornell. While they’re ranked in the top-20, ASU seems like they can hold their own– but can they do it for the long haul?? The win against Penn State kind of brought them into the limelight, but losses to THE Ohio State and then losses to Omaha take the shine away. 

That’s not to say they aren’t building. To have someone like Walker on the team gives them a cornerstone to build on. Greg Powers has stayed on track and it’s paid off for him. They have a good mix of upper (11) and underclassmen (16) to help mentor and build for the future and lead them maybe into something bigger. While it took Penn State quicker to be successful– they had the help of powerful alumni to give money in building a new rink, they were in a power conference, and they were in an under-served area of the US for recruits to go. 

The Sun Devils only check one of those boxes with the under-served market. They’re still without a big money donor to improve on their arena situation, while also being without a conference. The WCHA was an option for ASU, but the money they’d have to pay to other teams for travel costs is something the Sun Devils didn’t think was wise on their side of things. The NCHC has said that they don’t have plans to expand from the eight teams they have. My UND press-box colleague Eric Burton had an interesting take on the NCHC situation

The NCHC has a good thing going. Adding a couple of team changes that dynamic. More teams means less non-conference games. Bottom line, playing 10 non-conference games helps a team’s Pairwise Rankings. If your favorite team has a good non-conference record. Lastly, here’s another angle, think back to the old WCHA before re-alignment, big schools like Minnesota and Wisconsin wanted to control the terms.  During the formation period, the NCHC walked away from Notre Dame because of this. ASU is a big school and is going to want to have the same influence.

While I understand the idea with bigger schools wanting influences, I don’t think that ASU is as into themselves as Notre Dame is and wants influence when it comes to hockey. They just may want a fairer shake with a conference that would be a little less travel overall and they won’t get screwed out of money. However, you’d also have to find another team if they wanted that even-numbered conference.

This puts them in a weird spot because they’re freelancers who may have a good record, but if they can’t get bigger schools to play against them– then they might be hooped when it comes to wanting to be in the national tournament. However, if they keep winning and climb up the standings as they are, it’d be hard for them not to have people pulling for them to get an at-large bid. 

The upside of the Sun Devils’ play, as well as Penn State’s meteoric rise in college hockey is that it gives the NCAA options to look at other club teams to join the D1 ranks. They’ve already have those NHL studies looking at how feasible it is at the University of Illinois (which they’ve found the team would flourish) and Oakland University in Michigan (again, good results). It gives club hockey teams hopes of an upgrade, especially in the mid-Atlantic and South– something I’ve stumped for for a while. It gives players more opportunities at a D1 college career, which would help them get exposure they may not have gotten playing in lower levels.