When freshman forward Demetrios Koumontzis arrived in Tempe, there was a countdown clock displayed on the wall inside the ASU men’s hockey locker room at Oceanside Ice Arena.
Koumontzis, an Edina, Minnesota native, said this countdown clock pictured a logo for Alaska Fairbanks and was set at 60 days. At media day on Tuesday, this countdown had only four days left. The Sun Devils will start the 2018-19 season at home against Alaska Fairbanks at 7:05 p.m. this Saturday.
ASU coach Greg Powers said he installed a countdown clock to keep his team focused and motivated for the the next game, which Koumontzis found to be an effective tool.
“Looking at it every day, I was like, ‘Crap, we have a long way to go,’” Koumontzis said. “But every day I came to the rink, I was just like, ‘I can’t wait for that day’ … It just kind of gets in your head a little, and every day it gets closer."
The Sun Devils are readying for their fourth year as a Division I program. ASU went 8-21-5 this past season, and 10 losses came by one goal or an empty-net goal.
Despite that record, Powers has confidence, and he said he expects the team to take another step forward.
Powers notes that the Sun Devils lost only two seniors from the previous season, but they added a plethora of new talent to the roster, including Koumontzis, freshman Jordan Sandhu, freshman P.J. Marrocco and redshirt freshman Austin Lemieux, who are all goal-scoring forwards.
“We were close (last season),” Powers said. “We weren’t there yet, but we were close. We were very competitive and more competitive than the previous season, even though, maybe, the record really didn’t reflect that.”
Even so, this season doesn’t get any easier.
Powers calls ASU's schedule arguably the toughest in the nation, filled with elite opponents, including No. 3 Ohio State, No. 7 Cornell, No. 8 Boston University, No. 12 Boston College, No. 13 Minnesota, No. 14 Princeton and No. 16 Penn State.
Additionally, the Desert Hockey Classic returns to Gila River Arena in Glendale in December, where the Sun Devils could match up with defending national champion No. 1 Minnesota Duluth, No. 10 Minnesota State and No. 17 Clarkson.
Powers knows his team has experience playing a rigorous schedule and in hostile environments, and he said this schedule won’t intimidate his team. Rather, it can only improve the players' play.
“Every time we take the ice, we expect to win,” Powers said. “We are at that point. Will we? No, but we expect to, and we will prepare to win.”
Although ASU has talented newcomers, it will lean on its key returning players, including sophomore forward Johnny Walker, junior forwards Tyler Busch and Brett Gruber, junior defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk and senior forward Anthony Croston.
Last season, Walker led ASU in goals with 13, Gruber led in assists with 17, and Pasichnuk led in points with 24. Additionally, on Sept. 25, Powers named Pasichnuk, Busch, Croston and sophomore forward Dominic Garcia as captains.
“There are some really good players on the outside, looking in, but that is what you want,” Powers said. “That is what you want as a program, when you know you have (depth).”
However, Powers said the Sun Devils will only go as far as junior goalkeeper Joey Daccord takes them.
At media day, Powers said he feels increasingly better about the outlook for ASU than he did at this time last season.
Much of that discussion stemmed from his thoughts on the improved high-quality talent, experience, leadership, team chemistry and depth, execution on the little details and willingness to work hard each practice.
Koumontzis echoed his coach. He said he believes ASU will surprise some teams this season, but he said the opponent doesn’t matter – they have to come ready to play.
Powers said he thinks his players are ready for the season to start.
“They are ready to play,” Powers said. “They are ready to play another team, they are ready to hit another team, and they are ready to put that jersey on. They are tired of just practicing against each other, and that is what you want to see."