A season in review for ASU women's hockey

The Sun Devils had a number of firsts in their second year as a program

It’s been nearly a month since the ASU women’s hockey team closed out its 2017-18 season in the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League playoffs.

Despite the first round exit in Fremont, Nebraska, the Sun Devils reached new heights with a small roster in the team’s second year of existence. 

ASU picked up its first road win in program history, picked up its first overtime goal, and sophomore goaltender Jordan Nash-Boulden picked up the first shutout in program history.

“I think it was really surprising as far as the kind of turnaround that we had from last year to this year,” Nash-Boulden said. “We didn’t add that many players, and everyone that we did bring in was really a major asset to the team, and everybody that stuck around continually got better and improved.”

Along with markers for the program, ASU and GCU established an unprecedented college hockey rivalry that could open gates for female hockey players to compete in the west.

In the Lopes' inaugural season, the two new programs played five times. ASU had the upper hand in the first year of the rivalry, as the Sun Devils won the season series 3-1-1. 

Nonetheless, the framework has been laid out, and both teams have the makings of a homegrown rivalry that is set for years to come.

In addition to the cross-town showdown, ASU recorded three sweeps against WWCHL opponents, and the Sun Devils earned their first-ever ACHA national ranking toward the end of the season, with the team coming in at No. 15 in the country.

As for next year, the Sun Devils will be in uncharted waters as ASU head coach Lindsey Ellis will have her first full roster in program history.

In the first two years, ASU predominantly played with just two lines. This often created everlasting fatigue and depth issues.

Despite the depth problems, the Sun Devils managed to compete with just two lines and one goaltender. Next year, that will not be an issue when ASU finally has the ability to roll three to four lines with 11 new players entering the program, along with 10 returning players.

Among some of the returners will be sophomore forward Alyssa Ayers, freshman forward Catherine Jones and sophomore defenseman Molly Potter

In her first season of college hockey, Jones set a freshman record in points and goals with 14, and she could be looked upon to be a key player to light the lamp for the Sun Devils next season.

Potter didn’t record a point in 2017-18, but her defensive efforts in front of the ASU net were critical. The Sun Devils will likely rely on Potter to step into a leadership role with a full defense core coming in and the loss of four senior captains.

Although the blue liner has a quiet demeanor, her hard work ethic and sure-handedness in the defensive zone spoke volumes about her play, and it might even land her a letter on her jersey come next season.

“I am definitely hoping to become a leader on the team,” Potter said. “I am really quiet, especially in big groups, so that might be a challenge … I think with the positivity that I bring individually to people, I think hopefully, that will help me become a leader next year.”

ASU has three prospect camps coming up this offseason. Ellis and her coaching staff are still in the midst of adding more depth.

Aside from the team, ASU will be making some ACHA history when they host next year’s WWCHL playoffs at City National Arena in Las Vegas.

With so much in store for next season, next year can’t come soon enough for the Sun Devils.

To the casual viewer, 10 wins over the course of two seasons does not scream national contender, but for Ellis, she has other plans in store, and she has a vision laid out in front of her.

“I’d love to go to nationals, and I think we will be able to tell a little bit more once all of our girls are together,” Ellis said. “We want to win a few playoff games and maybe get to the championships of the playoffs (the WWCHL Playoffs), so there is a lot of little steps that we still need to make, but we are ready to make those big steps.”

With baby steps come big strides, and Ellis certainly has her program trending in the right direction. The hope is that hockey players in Arizona will not have to “grow the game.” Rather, the game will grow and will blossom in a place that the hockey world did not expect.

Maybe, one day, there will even be NCAA women’s hockey in the west. But for now, Ellis and ASU are off to a good start.

“There are going to be so many changes and I think the whole entire culture will change,” Ellis said of next year. “The compete level and the whole entire dynamic will be a lot different, and I guess we will just see once August rolls around, what type of team we have.”

Reach the reporter at atbell1@asu.edu or follow @AndrewBell7 on Twitter.

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