Team of the Week: Arizona State
When you're not getting wins, sometimes it's hard to demonstrate to your players that you're improving.
After all, improvement is Arizona State's goal, and has been since the program started three seasons ago — just get better every day, every month. You're not making NCAA tournament yet, so the wins themselves are not as important.
On that score, Arizona State has improved by leaps and bounds over its three seasons, and that was evident even though the team had just four wins this year entering last weekend's tournament in Las Vegas.
That said, wins are nice. They provide motivation, and the instant gratification of knowing you did a good job. More importantly, however, stringing together two very good wins last weekend gave the Sun Devils their first piece of hardware — an IceVegas Invitational tournament trophy. And that's something.
"I'm just proud of our guys, it's a good moment for those kids they earned it," Sun Devils coach Greg Powers. "They've been through a ton of adversity. Every one of them had options to go someplace else, and they wanted to come here and build this program for moments like these. They earned this special moment. I'm proud of them. I'm happy for them, and it's a really good moment for our program."
The Sun Devils defeated Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan to win the tournament.
Last year, ASU had a three-game win streak at one point, and wound up with 10 wins overall. There's a tough schedule ahead, including Quinnipiac, Boston University and Masschusetts-Lowell, so cracking 10 again will be a challenge. But the team has played better overall, Powers believes.
"We havve a team with not many upperclassmen, learning how to contribute and learning how to win," Powers said. "We played really well (in the Three Rivers tournament) against Lake Superior, but it didn't translate to goals and success."
Keeping the players focused when not winning is Powers' main job at times.
"We had a meeting at the start of last week and went through the numbers," Powers said. "You hear it all the time — when building something, whether it's business or hockey, you can't be results focused, you have to be process focused. We showed (the players), 'You're not failing.' We're not winning games, but if you look it us from the hybrid year to year one to year two, we've had improvement across the board with the exception of the power play. In seven games we didn't win, our goal differential was minus-3, and our power play was 0-for-24."
One of the hallmarks of Arizona State this season has been the ability to bounce back from bad starts to weekends. Obviously, as an independent, the team schedules whatever opponents it can, and that means facing a lot of solid programs from around the country on a consistent basis. Often times, the Friday games, the team looks overmatched, only to bounce back Saturday with a strong showing.
It's happened four times this season, in particular, with blowout losses to Colorado College, Princeton, Nebraska-Omaha and Colgate on a Friday — all followed by ties or wins the next night. Those are solid outcomes.
"We still have that mindset that, even though we tell them we can skate with anyone when we play the right way, unfortunately we use that Friday game to feel it out, see how hard we have to go. Then Saturday it's like flipping a switch. I told them, that feeling you have Saturday when you wake up pissed off — but pissed when you wake up on Friday.
"So we had that mindset going into the Northern Michigan game, and we came out ahead 3-0 after five minutes."
Arizona State jumped into playing D-I hockey in relatively short order. As a result, the players on the roster were thrown into the fire. The program still isn't yet awarding all 18 full scholarships it's allowed. That will come next year. In the mean time, they've been piecing it together, one by one, building a roster, finding players who want to be part of creating something from the ground up. It's been a slower process than, say, Penn State, because ASU jumped in without waiting a year as PSU did. The program is really on year two, if you look at it that way.
But the pieces are coming together. In addition to some solid D-I transfers, the bigger recruits are being landed. One of those is sophomore goalie Joey Daccord, the team's first drafted player.
Daccord had a slow start to this season, but his numbers have improved dramatically since, and Powers expects to rely on him heavily from here on.
Then there is Brinson Pasichnuk, a 5-foot-10 sophomore defenseman who is garnering a lot of attention from pro scouts. Originally committed to Vermont, he was recently given an assistant captain role. He is second on the team in goals, and tied for the team lead in points.
"He's a special player," Powers said. "We were dumbfounded he wasn't drafted after his freshman year. We played everybody last year, we played more than half the (NCAA) tournament field. As a freshman 'D,' the only kid I felt we saw make a bigger impact was (Harvard's) Adam Fox.
"The crazy thing is, he's having a good year and it's just starting to translate. He has hit maybe six or seven posts, missed three or four breakaways. He could have better numbers than he does. He's the best player on the ice when we play, it doesn't usually matter who we're playing. The secret is starting to get out on him. Whatever happens we'll be happy we're a small part of his success, but I we think he'll be here for a bit. He came here to build the program."
The biggest wins for Arizona State in the coming months and years will probably be off the ice. Talks with various conferences about joining have fallen through for one reason or another. One of the main reasons a bigger conference has been reluctant is ASU's lack of quality arena of its own. That, however, is very close to being rectified, it appears. Arizona State is tight-lipped about it for now, but there are rumblings that plans are coming together. If it does, a conference could follow, and a lot of things may come together rapidly for ASU.