ASU men's hockey features two Phoenix natives on its roster

Freshman Johnny Walker just committed to ASU men's hockey earlier this year

Division I hockey may not be the first collegiate sport thought of when Arizona is mentioned, but when the home opener arrives Sept. 30, the ASU men’s hockey team will have two skaters from Phoenix out on the ice. 

Junior forward Anthony Croston and freshman forward Johnny Walker are both Phoenix natives with ties to the Valley. 

“They certainly seem to get along great,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said. “I think they take a tremendous amount of pride that they’re both from our home state here and playing for their hometown school.” 

Walker grew up playing many sports, but hockey became the primary sport when he moved away for high school. 

“There’s a big controversy on who I went skating with first through my family, but I like to say I taught myself,” Walker said. “My dad played hockey growing up and my mom was really a great athlete, too.”

Unlike Walker, it was primarily hockey from a young age for Croston. 

Croston said he has been playing hockey since he was five years old and mentioned his father played hockey and influenced him to take up the sport.

“I don’t even remember if I had the option or not, but it was obviously something I wanted to do,” Croston said. “It’s always been a sport my whole family has loved, so just to be able to play it in college is pretty amazing.”

Croston said the biggest reason he committed to ASU men’s hockey two years ago was because it was a startup program, back when the team was in the initial stages of transitioning to a NCAA Division I program. 

“I thought it would have been really special to build a tradition here,” Croston said. “Another thing is, I thought that I was going to have a better opportunity here to be successful than some other schools. Being a startup program, they have to build and bring in guys that will help build the program, and so I felt that would be a good spot for me to be.”

Walker is a vital part to building this program up. He said he has only been at ASU for about a month and that he committed in hopes of building a tradition.  

“I always thought growing up it would be cool, but it was kind of something that was tough to wrap your head around because when you think of college hockey, you think midwest or east coast school dominance,” Walker said. “When (ASU Division I hockey program) was first announced, it became my dream and automatically my number one school to go to.” 

Powers spoke on what he and his coaching staff saw from Walker and why they wanted him in a maroon and gold jersey. 

“He has so many intangibles that we want in a player,” Powers said. “He’s obviously incredibly skilled. He’s one of our most natural goal scorers that we have and he just knows how to find the back of the net.” 

Walker lives 15 minutes away from Oceanside Ice Arena, where the Sun Devils will play most of their home games this season. Given the close proximity to home, he spends time with his other teammates regularly off the rink. 

“Me and my roommates just about every Sunday will go … over (to my house),” Walker said. “My mom’s a killer cook.”

Powers said the continual growth of hockey in Arizona could be the start of major in-state recruiting. 

“If a kid is from Arizona and all things are equal and he’s at least equal to somebody that’s not from Arizona, we’re going to go with the hometown kid every time,” Powers said. “We want to keep the best kids here in-state and that’s the plan."

"Just having a Division I program here in-state, it’s going to raise the level of play I think at the youth level ... what I love about having Division I hockey here is that it’s an attainable goal.”

For the first game of the season, Walker said he thinks there will be about 70 people coming out, many of which are family and friends. 

“All my family lives here, both on my dad’s side and my mom’s side,” Walker said. “I’ll definitely have tons of people here supporting me, especially my brother. (He) plays hockey here in the Valley, so he’ll be at every game for sure.” 

ASU men’s hockey will begin season play on Sept. 30 versus the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks at Oceanside Ice Arena. Faceoff in Tempe is set for 7:05 p.m.

Reach the reporter at or follow @Michael_Baron96 on Twitter.

Like State Press Sports on Facebook and follow @statepresssport on Twitter

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.