Arizona State hockey offers fun, sun, cactus but little tradition

Arizona State hockey offers fun, sun, cactus but little tradition

Imagine you’re Greg Powers.

You’re sitting in a recruit’s living room and you’re selling the virtues of your college hockey program.

Pretty much everyone before you has sold some sort of tradition, winning, respect for ‘the game’ and whatever else their program has to offer. But you have an ace in your sleeve.

You can offer sunshine. You can offer warmth. On those off days, instead of being stuck in the library with snow outside you can say, ‘hey, study by the pool next to some palm trees and cactus.’

“On the non-scholarship level, we really sold and pushed the most unique college hockey experience in the country, and now we can really … with even more confidence, on any college hockey prospect, because we are,” Powers, the coach of Arizona State’s newly minted Division-I men’s hockey team said. “We are the most unique college hockey experience in the country for kids.”

Sounds way better than the regular run-of-the-mill Midwest college hockey powers.

This week, it was announced that Arizona State would join the ranks of men’s Division-I programs partially in thanks to a successful club team, as well as a $32 million donation. Along with being the only college hockey team in the continental United States west of the Rio Grande, the move could provide a tipping point for college hockey in the United States.

It could be the beginning of more moves by Pac-12 schools to push their programs to go Division-I, provide a closer haven to players on the West Coast. Most importantly it could increase the sport’s profile in the United States past the occasional tweet by ESPN’s John Buccigross.

The news was so important it was even included on the Pac-12’s website.

“Arizona State is the first power-five conference school to add men’s ice hockey since the Big Ten’s Penn State added the sport in 2012. Sun Devil Athletics has also identified potential NCAA women’s sports to add, with a formal announcement coming at a later date.”

Of course the announcement would bring up Penn State, the school that helped push the Big Ten into hockey conference world. ASU is likely to start as an independent in 2015-16.

But the major difference between the two is that hockey was already regionalized in the Midwest and Western Pennsylvania. It is not nearly as vogue out West – especially in the college realm.

“We are thrilled and honored to potentially be the first domino to let that happen, and we are hell bent on making this a tremendous success for more reasons than that, but it’s one of the reasons why we want to have a ton of success because we want other schools to do the same thing,” Powers said. “We want to grow the game, we want to grow the game Southwest, and if down the road a few years from now we have Pac-12 hockey, it would be a great thing for everybody. “

But as Uncle Ben said to Spider-Man, ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’  Arizona State needs to succeed. Though snowbird Canadians flock to the Phoenix area, hockey failed at Northern Arizona University once before. And the Arizona Coyotes, at the NHL level, always seem in danger of moving. Like, has there been a year without 'Coyotes potentially moving' news since the turn of the decade?

Currently, ASU’s closest rivals are in the state of Colorado, which is not exactly close. A lot of the Sun Devils success hinges on whether other Pac-12 schools enter the realm of men’s Division-I hockey. If they don’t, then this grand experiment may have some trouble.

“You’re right,” Powers said to me when the “Spider-Man” quote was brought up. “We have to do this the right way. We know the importance of achieving success academically and on the ice so other schools know it’s possible. I’ve been reached out to by a number of club programs and universities that don’t have varsity hockey, and they ask ‘how did you do this, how did you get this done?’”

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