By: Paul Hornstein
Photo By: Zachary BonDurant
FOOTBALL IS BACK! This 2020 season was/is supposed to be one of the best ASU football seasons in…
Well actually, it really was/is supposed to be one of the best football seasons in Tempe in years. Of course, this is a hockey website, but there is no hiding the fact that football rules the college roost. At most schools that have a power five schools, it is the heartbeat of most school’s athletic departments. ASU is no different. It is not a secret that a cancelled football season would hurt the entire athletic department. The original plan to play in the spring, and the loss of revenue caused Stanford to drop almost a dozen sports. And while there are believed to be “non-revenue” reasons behind those moves, there are other schools that have dropped sports due to the economics of 2020, like Bowling Green dropping baseball. Even at ASU, the swim teams decided to “red shirt” the season & come back in the 21-22 season.
Anyway, this past week (September 24th, pending when you read this) the Pac-12 announced that they will play football this fall with a shortened schedule, and that basketball and winter sports will play slightly delayed seasons. So that was great news for all on the ASU campus, including the fifth year NCAA hockey team.
This was supposed to the year that the Sun Devil hockey team was supposed to take the next step to getting to that first even Frozen Four. With was supposed to be five of their top six scorers returning and the second ranked recruiting class coming to campus, ASU was no longer to be an upstart. And despite the loss of their top defense pair (Brinson Paschinuk was expected, he graduated. Josh Maniscalco leaving to sign with the Penguins was not), they still have a loaded roster. They still have four of those six players back (Johnny Walker, James Sanchez, Willie Knierim & PJ Morrocco) and when you throw in a maturing Demetrious Koumntzis, and transfers Chris Grando & Sean Dhoogie, they should be loaded upfront. And that’s before you add in freshmen, such as Detroit Red Wing 4th round pick, Ryan O’Reilly.
There is one slight (not slight) problem for this team, and it’s not anything they have control over. We know there is no Pac12 hockey conference. And since it seems that most leagues are going with conference schedules only, ASU (& LIU as well in their first season) are hockey independents, so what happens to them?
Well, it was pointed out to me, that LIU could play as an independent because they could travel to many schools very easily without having to get on an airplane. Add that to the fact that Atlantic Hockey has an odd number of teams, as well as a natural fit for the program. ASU as was pointed out to me as well, doesn’t have that luxury. That NCHC members Denver & Colorado College are the only ones within a two hour plane flight.
So, as college hockey teams take to the ice for the first time this season to start practice, what does this mean to ASU, now that football is going forward this fall? Well, it is a good question. And while others may disagree with me, I have taken the liberty to speculate based on almost no proof at all.
It really is not that hard. I have no inside information. And all I have is pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It is safe to assume that, the conference that will temporarily adopt ASU will not be the ECAC or Atlantic Hockey. That makes as much sense as going barefoot over hot coals. It’s done, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense. ASU was never going to be part of those leagues under any circumstances. And under pandemic conditions, it also eliminates one-time favorite Hockey East.
So that leaves the WCHA & the NCHC.
The WCHA would be interesting, it is in its last season in its current form. And not much would upset if ASU had one year as an emergency member. The league has been a possibility before it was going to be flat left by seven of its teams to get out of…I will keep my mouth shut…
Either way, the fact that the league will only be around for one more season its current form, makes it easy to do for one year. From a play standpoint, you easily make a case that ASU would be a top three team in this league, probably top two…with Minnesota State being the only team I could see going in as a team that would be favored in a matchup with ASU. I could be wrong and wearing “maroon & gold” glasses, but okay. That being said, I have always thought that if before they announced the formation of the “new” CCHA, that if ASU wanted to be part of that league, they would have done it two years ago.
So that leaves the place that I think ASU has always wanted to be, the NCHC. Why do I think that? And why do I think that this is where they will “temporary” members this season? They are two separate issues. Why do I think that this is where they always wanted to be? That’s easy. With what “limited” interactions I have personally had with the coach & what has been relayed to me over time, is that the coach has a we will play anyone at anytime, anywhere attitude. And for the last seven years, the NCHC has been the dominant conference in college hockey. It does not seem to be changing anytime soon. Two time defending champion Minnesota-Duluth, blue bloods Denver & North Dakota, as well as Western Michigan, and the program started by the legendary coach Herb Brooks at St. Cloud State. That is long term.
Short term, the reason I think this is what was publicly announced. It has been stated publicly that schedules were changed where Denver & Colorado College announced they were going to play home and home series with ASU. I have been told that ASU will be in a tough spot because of the travel, unlike LIU. I can’t argue with that, but I don’t see ASU being left out. I would be shocked. I think everyone would be.