ASU focusing on finding positives on maiden D-I voyage
As Sun Devils players enter their home locker room at Oceanside Ice Arena, they can’t help but notice a sign above that reads, “Without passion, you will not win, no matter what else you possess.”
More than halfway through their inaugural campaign competing against NCAA Division I competition, the sign epitomizes the current state of the men’s hockey program at Arizona State University. There’s plenty of passion, but talent and experience are also necessary to win. And victories versus Division I opponents have been hard to come by for ASU.
Yet another loss was the outcome on Jan. 5 when the Sun Devils played their first home game at Oceanside against a NCAA Division I opponent. The guest on this night, the University of Connecticut, took a 5-2 victory.
“The players really wanted this one,” said Sun Devils coach Greg Powers. “This season is all about learning. We’re not nearly good enough to take four offensive-zone penalties. You just can’t do it against a Division I team.”
The Huskies scored two power-play goals, the latter of which sucked the life out of the sold-out, standing room-only crowd on a rainy Tuesday night, giving Connecticut a comfortable 5-1 lead well into the third period.
“We’ve just got to stay out of the box,” explained ASU senior forward Liam Norris, one of the team captains. “I don’t think it’s a maturity issue. In that locker room, we thought we would win.”
Since sweeping two games from Lake Superior State University in mid-November, the Sun Devils entered the contest at Oceanside against Connecticut having lost eight straight games versus Division I opponents, but that hasn’t stopped longtime fans and new converts from supporting the team.
A solid contingent of students remained to the very end of the lopsided loss to the Huskies, heckling the visiting goalie until the final buzzer. With victories, sophomore student Quinton Brown believes the student section, known as “The Inferno,” will grow in population.
“I’m from Boise (Idaho) and we have a minor league team (ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads) – I love hockey,” said Brown, who chose to display his enthusiasm without wearing a shirt. “ASU has a lot of students from the Midwest that grew up with hockey.”
Against Connecticut, fan Erick Vansanford also displayed his passion for the Sun Devils, donning an ASU jersey and hat while standing in the season ticket section. Vansanford said he grew up in Phoenix, attended Central High School and became hooked on hockey when he attended Phoenix Roadrunners minor league games at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Vansanford said he purchased his season tickets for $330.00 for the 2015-16 campaign and has been coming to Sun Devils hockey games for 10 years. He envisions a future in which the program plays home games in a larger venue, perhaps even one they share with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
“I think it will happen,” he said. “Hockey draws here.”
Indeed, it’s the future that brought more than just fans to Oceanside.
“It’s why I’m here,” explained Eric Weissman, a scout with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. “There’s talent. I think it was a smart move from a recruiting standpoint for ASU to jump to Division I. It’s a good destination for any college kid.”
ASU freshman defenseman Joey Raats agrees with Weissman.
Raats turned down scholarship offers from more established Division I programs to become a Sun Devil. One of 15 freshmen on the team, Powers sold Raats on the idea of being able to play immediately and also make history at the same time.
“Coach told me what I wanted to hear,” explained Raats. “Even if you’re a top freshman, you’re not playing much on most Division I teams. ASU is going to be a top program. We’re going to have a winning team, playing in a competitive conference.
“Our goal is to be one of the top teams in the nation.”
— Joe Connor