ASU hockey, Arizona Coyotes announce arena partnership

Sun Devil Hockey will play games at Gila River Arena during its inaugural NCAA season

Welcome to the big leagues, Sun Devil hockey.

ASU hockey and the NHL's Arizona Coyotes announced a new arena partnership that would allow the Sun Devils to play four games at Glendale's Gila River Arena next season on Wednesday.

"This coming season, we will be hosting at Gila River Arena four of ASU's marquee matchups, as well as a first of its kind, in this region, Division I hockey tournament," Arizona Coyotes co-owner, president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. "This is an example of what we have been talking about since we purchased the franchise two years ago, which is the vibrant hockey nature here in Arizona."

ASU will open their inaugural NCAA campaign in a rematch of the "Cactus Cup" against ACHA opponents Arizona at the arena on Oct. 3. In addition, they will play two games of the previously announced "Desert Hockey Classic" from January 8-10 as well as a game against the Team USA 18-U team on Feb. 28.

The Sun Devils will be playing their first NCAA season on a hybrid schedule in 2015-16, splitting their games between Gila River Arena and their previous venue, Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.

LeBlanc said having a Division I program in a NHL arena will only enhance the sport.

"It just shows there is so much demand to watch this sport and to be a part of ASU athletics that we feel it's the right thing to do and it's the beginning of what we feel is going to be a long-term partnership," he said.

LeBlanc added potentially hosting a "Frozen Four" at Gila River Arena is a possibility worth looking at.

ASU head coach Greg Powers said the program would not be sitting at the NCAA Division I level without the Arizona Coyotes, who brought local fans to the sport.

"I've been very vocal from day one that the growth of our great game, it goes further than just Arizona," Powers said. "Without the Arizona Coyotes and their very clear commitment to the state of Arizona, I really believe we're not here today.

"Today, celebrating this great partnership with two leaders of our sport in this state, is a tremendous honor to be a part of not only personally but certainly for our University and our hockey program."

Powers said ASU is still working towards securing a new, permanent location in addition to the renovations of Oceanside Ice Arena and games at Gila River Arena.

"We're getting closer everyday (to a permanent facility)," Powers said. "We have some great options on the table. The people at Oceanside (Ice Arena) have been incredibly dedicated to upgrading that facility. You're looking at close to $300,000 in renovations that they put into it to make it acceptable for us to play games.

"We're excited because hockey fans in the East side will get a good amount of games to go to and experience Division I hockey, and then we'll get more reach by going out to the West Valley and playing our big games out there. It's the best of both worlds."

ASU athletic director Ray Anderson said there will be transportation options available for students to attend the games in Glendale.

"We will be talking about providing some sort of transportation system for our students as part of that endeavor," he said.

Powers added the ASU West campus will be closer to games with the new move, allowing those students easier access to games, which are typically far away for them.

Playing in a NHL arena will allow opportunities for Sun Devil hockey to provide TV and multimedia content to the Pac-12 Networks, Anderson said.

"It is much more TV-ready than anything we have," Anderson said. "I think the Pac-12 will love the additional content that we will bring in varsity hockey up at Gila River."

The move is intended to reinforce the connection the two organizations have with hockey in the community.

“The Phoenix community has embraced Sun Devil Hockey with open arms and the Arizona Coyotes are great ambassadors for the sport of ice hockey in the Valley,” Anderson said in a statement. “The partnership between Sun Devil Athletics and the Arizona Coyotes gives our student-athletes the experience of competing in a top-tier NHL facility in Gila River Arena, and the partnership also provides immense exposure for the growth and development for the sport of hockey at all levels in Arizona and on the west coast.”

This is the beginning of a "continued partnership" between the Sun Devils and Coyotes.

“We are proud to be hosting a couple of ASU's marquee matchups and a first of its kind NCAA D-1 hockey tournament in the Southwestern United States,” LeBlanc said in a statement. “Gila River Arena is one of the best hockey venues in the entire NHL and we are excited to have the Sun Devils play in our home. The Sun Devils will have an enormous positive impact on the growth of hockey in Arizona. We look forward to a long and great partnership with ASU.”

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