When the NCAA canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 college hockey season due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Sun Devil hockey was in the best place in the program’s Division I history. The Sun Devils were 22-11-3, they were ranked 13th in the nation, 12th in the Pairwise Rankings and they were absolutely headed to their second straight NCAA Tournament.
The global pandemic stalled all of that momentum.
Faced with major travel restrictions and the uncertainty of the pandemic’s future, most hockey conferences chose to play only intra-conference games while others such as the Ivy League schools canceled the 2020-21 season altogether.
As an independent, ASU had no choice but to play an all-road schedule in the Big Ten if it wanted to play any games at all. With the uncertainty of Covid still lingering, however, the Sun Devils had to play that challenging schedule without stalwart defensemen Josh Maniscalco and Brinson Pasichnuk, who both signed pro contracts.
The Devils struggled to a 7-16-3 record and then followed that up with a disappointing 17-17-1 record in 2021-22.
“It was just too much to stomach,” coach Greg Powers said of the myriad effects of Covid. “It set us back.”
The stars are aligning for the Sun Devils to get back on track this season. When they return from their opening two series on the road, they will move into brand new, state-of-the-art Mullett Arena, eliminating the only recruiting disadvantage the program ever had while adding the sort of home-ice advantage that most programs already enjoyed.
On top of that, Powers and assistant coaches Alex Hicks and Mike Field were able to take advantage of the transfer portal to add a lot of skill up front and a promising goaltender to shore up last season’s greatest weakness.
Add in a favorable schedule and some preseason love from the more knowledgeable pollsters and Powers believes that his program is ready to usher in a new era of Sun Devil hockey.
“We kind of had to teach our guys, our young guys in the program, how to win again; what it takes to win on a nightly basis in college hockey,” Powers said. “We learned a lot through last year, learned a lot from our mistakes, what we didn’t do and what we need to do to have success.
“I guess we’ll find out if it has worked come Saturday.”
The Sun Devils will open the season with a two-game series at No. 5 Minnesota Duluth on Saturday and Sunday. Here is everything that you need to know about ASU hockey as it begins its eighth season as a Division I program.
Both the USCO and USA Today polls had the Sun Devils outside the top 20 at No. 27, but it should be noted that the Grand Forks Herald’s well researched poll (the others are hit and miss) has ASU at No. 16 based on its success in the transfer portal in adding Lukas Sillinger, Robert Mastrosimone, Ty and Dylan Jackson and T.J. Semptimphelter.
The Herald had Denver ranked No. 1 in last season’s preseason poll despite a losing season the year before. The Pioneers won the national championship. The Herald also had three of the four Frozen Four teams in its preseason top four.
“You never want to see your team unranked, but that’s just something to work towards,” Sun Devils alternate captain Demetrios Koumontzis said. “You’ve just got to focus on game one and if we take care of business up in Minnesota, I think we’ll be rewarded.”
Sun Devil hockey schedule
ASU plays 24 of its 39 games at Mullett Arena, with 14 road games and one neutral site game when they face No. 4 North Dakota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Oct. 29.
The Sun Devils play every one of the nation’s top-five ranked teams and they face eight teams in the top 20.
If ASU can survive the first half of its schedule and be in position for the NCAA Tournament, it will be in great shape because it plays 16 of its final 20 games at home.
ASU’s toughest road series are this weekend at No. 5 Minnesota Duluth, and then at No. 18 Clarkson, and at No. 1 Denver later in the season. It hosts No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Minnesota State.
“You go and get some wins against those guys, it’s the gift that keeps on giving for the pairwise rankings,” Powers said. “It’s why we do it and we’re certainly starting out not dodging anybody with Minnesota Duluth. They’re a premier, if not the premier model program in college hockey.”
Sun Devil hockey newcomers
ASU took full advantage of the transfer portal this season, landing forward Robert Mastrosimone from Boston University, forward Lukas Sillinger from Bemidji State, forwards Ty and Dylan Jackson from Northeastern and goalie TJ Semptimphelter from Northeastern. The forwards combined for 86 points in 2021-22. Semptimphelter jumped on everyone’s radar when he stole the show at the Beanpot while starter Devon Levi was competing in the Olympics.
“We took the approach of bringing guys in that have some length in their terms, so to speak,” Powers said. “The Jacksons have three years, Sillinger technically has three years, Mastro technically is two, TJ has three. These are all guys that want to be here for the long-term and are not one-year rentals.”
The Sun Devils will also feature a number of freshmen in their lineup this season including forward Charlie Schoen, defensemen Blake Dangos and goalie Gibson Homer.
ASU finished 10th in the nation in scoring at 3.3 goals per game, and 17th on the power play at 22.4 percent. The additions to the forward group will likely augment those numbers but ASU spent a lot of time this offseason working on a different aspect of its game.
The Sun Devils finished tied for the seventh-worst goals against per game in the nation at 3.5 and the penalty kill, once a hallmark of this program, finished with the fifth worst success rate at 72.9 percent.
The staff addressed one of the program’s greatest needs by bringing in goalie TJ Semptimphelter from Northeastern and goalie Gibson Homer from the USHL’s Chicago Steel, but there was also an emphasis on defending better.
“It’s just really protecting the dangerous area better than we did,” Powers said. “Defending is a mind set of competing and will. The company line really for the last month is: If we score we might win, and we scored a lot last year. If we don’t let them score, we can’t lose. We have to take care of our end first.
“If you’re not going to defend for us, you’re not going to play.”
Sun Devil hockey captains
Coyotes prospect and Sun Devils sophomore Josh Doan was named captain. Graduate forward Demetrios Koumontzis and senior defenseman Jacob Semik will serve as alternate captains.
“They kind of told us that us three are going to be the leadership group,” Doan said. “That’s how we’ve got to take it; just us three of us are a group. That’s how it will be the whole season and when you look at it like that, it makes it way easier and it takes pressure off your shoulders.”
Sun Devil hockey lineup
Here is the projected lineup for the Sun Devils’ season opener at Minnesota Duluth on Saturday.
Lukas Sillinger Robert Mastrosimone Josh Doan
Matthew Kopperud Ty Jackson Dylan Jackson
Chris Grando Benji Eckerle Demetrios Koumontzis
Ryan O’Reilly Jack Jensen Charlie Schoen
Ty Murchison Tim Lovell
Jacob Semik Jack Judson
Blake Dangos Ethan Szmagaj
Power play first unit
Left flank: Josh Doan
Net front: Lukas Sillinger
Bumper: Robert Mastrosimone
Right flank: Matthew Kopperud
Point: Tim Lovell
The unit will be fluid. Forwards Josh Doan, Robert Mastrosimone and the Jacksons (Ty and Dylan) will all see time, with Benji Eckerle, Ryan O’Reilly, Demetrios Koumontzis and Chris Grando major roles.
On defense, Jacob Semik, Jack Judson, Ty Murchison and Ethan Szmagaj will be the primary personnel.
Sun Devil hockey broadcast information
Details are still being ironed out but at a minimum, all home games will be streamed on Pac-12 Networks and all of those streams will be free.
All home games will also be broadcast on Fox Sports 910, iHeartRadio.com and the iHeartRadio app. In addition the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game against North Dakota in Las Vegas on Oct. 29 will broadcast on those same platforms. So will the road series at Denver on Dec. 2-3.