Pat Lind experiences it daily.
Whenever the junior captain of the ASU club hockey team walks on campus with “ASU Hockey” emblazoned on an article of his clothing, the question is the same.
“ASU has a hockey team?”
“If you tell professors that you’re going to miss a couple of days because we have a hockey trip, they’re like ‘Oh, we have a hockey team here?” Lind said.
ASU not only has a hockey team but has had one since 1979 when a group of students decided to represent ASU and scheduled games with schools in southern California and UA.
The program grew throughout the 1980s, and in 1992, ASU was a charter member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Now, ASU has two teams that compete in ACHA Division I and ACHA Division II.
This year’s D-I team is currently ranked No. 10 in the country.
Since joining the ACHA in 1992, ASU has qualified for the ACHA Division I National Tournament six times as one of the top 16 teams in the nation, and it is on pace to earn another nationals berth this year.
With six tournament appearances in 16 seasons and six All-Americans, ASU has a long history of success.
The ACHA is comprised of more than 300 teams over five divisions, including two women’s divisions. Many schools have chosen to operate an ACHA team instead of an NCAA team due to strict NCAA requirements regarding stadium size and Title IX issues, among other reasons.
The ACHA mirrors the NCAA in structure, awards, positions and policies.
With a combined yearly budget of almost $250,000, raised mainly through player fees and sponsorships, both teams travel across the nation, from Washington in the Northwest to Oklahoma in the Midwest to Rhode Island on the East Coast.
Basically, while ASU hockey is a club team, it operates as an NCAA team does.
“I think club sports at ASU are something looked at as not as serious,” Lind said. “We run our program like an NCAA program, and we expect our athletes to act like NCAA athletes.”
One of the reasons the ASU hockey program has been, and is continuing to be, so successful is the large number of players from “traditional” hockey areas in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. Over half of the players on this year’s Division I team roster come from these traditional hockey areas, including three from Canada.
Nick Nappi, who played for the D-II team for three years and is from New York, said a number of factors make ASU attractive to hockey players from cold-weather areas.
“Guys from the Northeast like the change — the lifestyle’s a little bit different, obviously the weather is a little bit different, the people are different,” Nappi said. “Some guys like the change, and that was a big thing for me. I like the change.”
Nappi attended high school at Canterbury Prep in Connecticut, a northeastern hockey powerhouse. He had offers to play in the NCAA at the D-III level, but he decided playing ACHA Division I would be a better fit.
“I started looking into other schools that were not NCAA, but ACHA D-I, and I came across ASU,” Nappi said. “If I wasn’t gonna go NCAA D-III, then I was going go to a school where I could play hockey and also enjoy the other aspects of the school.”
Wayne Reid, the former Director of Hockey Operations and a member of the Sun Devil Hockey Hall of Fame, estimates that between 100 and 140 new players show interest in playing for the program every year.
“As the program has moved forward and been more successful, then you started attracting players that are from the Northeast and the Midwest that want to come to Arizona,” he said. “[They] come to school and have the benefit of the ability to continue playing hockey.”
In addition to the players who contact ASU and show interest, in recent years the program has started recruiting formally — not unlike a an NCAA team. Former ASU All-American goalie Greg Powers was hired as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator two years ago, and there has been a notable difference.
“Within the last year or two, kids have been recruited and brought here to play hockey,” Lind said. “Who wouldn’t want to come here to play? Right now, we’re a top-ranked team in the country, and living in Arizona, you have the beautiful weather, a great school and there’s a lot of things to do around here that draws a lot of people to come out here.”
As the D-I program wraps up its season and prepares to head to the national tournament and the D-II team challenges for a conference title, perhaps it’s time to realize that ASU doesn’t just have a hockey team.
Rather, it has two teams consistently challenging for championships and hoping to make their presence known.
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