Arizona State Hockey to Division I
University Will Transition Program in 2015, 2016
CHN Staff Report
Arizona State University intends to move its hockey program to NCAA Varsity for the 2015-16 season, the school confirmed today.
ASU will transition its team for the 2015 season and play a schedule of both Division I and ACHA (club hockey) teams. The team will play its first full Division I schedule in 2016 as an independent, hoping to join a conference for the 2017-18 season.
This is a similar path that Penn State took when it started its program. Penn State is now in its second season in the Big Ten.
Arizona State's club hockey team is a defending ACHA national champion and is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. Greg Powers, a former goaltender for ASU's club team, will remain as the team's head coach. He's been coaching the club team since 2010-11.
"The reason he is going to be the first varsity hockey head coach is because he deserves to be," Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said.
Arizona State has raised $32 million for the move through private donation, mainly from the family of former ASU hockey player Chris Mullett, but also through other anonymous donations.
Anderson made the announcement Tuesday on the school's Tempe, Ariz., campus, with Powers, Mullett and College Hockey Inc. Executive Director Mike Snee with him at the podium. Anderson, in his first year as the school's AD, already has a reputation for being bold.
"This is in line with (ASU) President (Michael) Crow's vision," Anderson said. "Let's step out there. Let's do some things that others maybe aren't comfortable doing so long as you can make the business case for it and a financial case for it. We're going to be entrepreneurial."
ASU is the first new program since Penn State elevated its club team to varsity status ahead of the 2012-13 season. Penn State received a donation of close to $100 million from one individual, Terry Pegula, to help fund the men's and women's program, and the building of a new arena, there.
The $32 million wouldn't be enough for a new arena. For the moment, the team may play in downtown Phoenix's US Airways Arena, which is home of the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
The Sun Devils become the westernmost and southernmost team in the continental United States. It becomes the first Pac-12 school to form a team. The University of Arizona has had a long history of succes at the club level, and gets large crowds at its 7,000-seat arena. It would be a logical addition as well, but there is no mention of plans there. Other Pac-12 schools like Oregon, Stanford, USC and UCLA has shown some interest in the past.
Without a Pac-12 conference to play in, the logical future homes for Arizona State would be the WCHA or NCHC. Both conferences have already had preliminary discussions with the school.
"Part of my vision is to grow the WCHA and college hockey," WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson told the Mankato Free Press. "There's a lot of potential in the sun belt for growth in college hockey. ... I think they would be a wonderful fit to our conference."
ASU will not be the state's first Division I hockey program. Northern Arizona University fielded a team from 1981-1986. It produced NHL players Greg Adams and Bob Beers. But the Flagstaff, Ariz., program failed quickly.
"We're Arizona State," Powers said. "No offense to NAU ... but it's Flagstaff. We're in Phoenix. I think the East Valley really wants high-level hockey and now they're going to have it.
Former Ferris State defenseman Connor Schmidt and former Northeastern forward Ryan Belonger currently play for ASU's club team.
Details regarding the subsequent moves related to Title IX compliance remain to be clarified. There are reports ASU will add two women's programs in the future to ensure it remains in compliance.
There are currently four NCAA Division I players from Arizona. Moreover, Auston Matthews, currently with the United States National Development Program, is a native of Scottsdale, Ariz. Matthews is expected to be a top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states for participation, according to USA Hockey figures.