Sun Devils & Ice Gods: Arizona State hockey makes a D-I power play
This article appears in the Feb. 9-16 edition of SI. To subscribe, click here.
To: Division I Hockey Prospect
From: Unauthorized Arizona State Recruiting Coordinator
I hope you are enjoying another lovely winter in Saskatchewan. I see the temperature has risen to –20º Celsius and the latest blizzard only dropped a foot of snow. Congratulations. It sounds like you may get to see the sun by Easter.
I understand you are receiving loads of letters like this from all the major college hockey programs in the U.S. You have probably visited their enchanting campuses in Grand Forks, N.D.; Mankato, Minn.; and Lowell, Mass. I’ve been meaning to take the family to Lowell for vacation.
Recruiters from the established powers will try to sell you on their rich traditions. All we have to offer, they claim, are these tiresome 75º February days and tedious spring-break-style pool parties. But before you sign up for four years in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, let me kick off my flip-flops and tell you a little about Arizona State hockey. I’ll keep this short. I know you’re going ice fishing today—catch that walleye!—and I have a tee time beckoning at TPC Scottsdale.
You may have heard that we are making the jump to Division I next season, which I’m sure prompted many jokes about Jamaican bobsledding. ASU cannot match the history of Boston College or Boston University or the Boston Roller Derby for that matter. Five years ago the program consisted mostly of players from the Southwest, and you can imagine how that worked out. The Sun Devils were a sub-.500 club team in the nonvarsity American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Then, in 2010, we hired a new coach, Greg Powers, who would take out a restraining order if he knew I was contacting you. Powers, a former ASU goalie, was running an executive recruiting firm nearby. He quickly turned his attention from corporate honchos to Canadian wingers, spending weeks in British Columbia on scouting trips, often paid for with his personal credit card. At one point half the roster hailed from north of the border. “We’d sit around bonfires at night, look at the fantasyland we were living in and ask each other, ‘What did we do to deserve this?’ ” recalls Regina, Saskatchewan, native Kale Dolinski, who won ACHA Player of the Year last season, when the Sun Devils captured the national championship. This year we are 26-3-1 and have 11 players who turned down D-I opportunities elsewhere to pay $3,200 in club dues at ASU.
We also boast the most influential beat writer ever, a junior named Justin Emerson, who covers the team for the website House of Sparky. In July, Emerson scored an interview with Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson and asked whether the program could move from club to D-I. Arizona State had to cut men’s tennis in 2008, but Anderson didn’t laugh Emerson out of his office and indicated that a transition was possible—provided more than $30 million in donations magically appeared. Two hours after Emerson posted his story, Powers fielded a call from Wisconsin-based Bradley Corp. CEO Don Mullett, whose son used to play at ASU. “Tell them we’re in,” Mullett said.
When Arizona State joins the Division I ranks, there won’t be another team within 570 miles, and the enrollment of 76,000 will be 35 times larger than that of, say, defending NCAA champion Union. Since the D-I announcement in November, 13 prospects have given us verbal commitments. Two blue-chippers from New England made official visits last month, but their trip was problematic because they refused to get on the plane back home. “You ever see the girls who go to that school?” BU’s Jack Eichel, the best player in the country, told Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog. “They have a lot of advantages with recruiting.”
Don’t take my word. Thaw out and fly down. We can pay for your visit now. The Super Bowl has passed, but spring training is right around the corner.