ASU men's hockey ignores rankings, focuses on Michigan State

The Sun Devils face off with another Big Ten foe this weekend

As they headed into overtime against then-No. 6 Penn State Saturday night, the ASU men’s hockey team needed someone to make a play inside Pegula Ice Arena.

Johnny Walker was that guy,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said.

After what Powers described as an unbelievable pass from junior forward Tyler Busch, the sophomore forward Walker scored a game-winning goal in overtime silencing the PSU crowd. 

ASU (7-3) upset the Nittany Lions on the road to split the series, earning its first top-10 win in program history.

Reflecting on the experience from the bench, Powers said the win was a great and well-deserved moment for ASU.

“It was special,” Powers said. “Maybe the hockey Gods were on our side a little bit.”

Walker has 11 goals and six assists so far this season, leading the nation in each category, but his coach believes the talented young forward can improve in all three zones on the ice. 

“I mean, teams know what is coming," Powers said. "They know to key in on him. He just finds ways to get it done. He is scary ... He is so productive and so good, but he can be so much better, and he knows it ... The sky is literally the limit for that kid.”

Although he expressed excitement about the win against Penn State, Powers said his team expects to win every time it skates onto the ice, which he used to explain his disappointment on how ASU let the game on Friday night against the Nittany Lions slip away.

But with redemption on Saturday, he said the Sun Devils’ standard and expectation for winning is validated. 

“(We have players) that believe in what we are doing, and really, that is all that matters,” Walker said. “That is what showed on Saturday night.”

For former walk-on Anthony Croston, who is a senior forward and captain, this mindset and expectation instilled at ASU hasn’t always been prevalent. During his first few seasons as a Sun Devil, the team hoped to win but the results weren't always there.

ASU nearly moved into the latest USCHO poll, receiving the most votes from any team outside the rankings. Despite the win, redshirt senior forward Dylan Hollman wants to continue to “prove people wrong” and show that ASU is a legitimate college hockey program in its fourth season.

“Obviously, we have had a great start to the season so far, and for people to take us seriously, we have to continue to do that,” Hollman said. “We are just really trying to keep making our splash on college hockey, and that includes being consistent.”

Powers said that although he likes national recognition, he doesn’t look into it too much. Instead, he has his sights on the series this weekend at home inside Oceanside Ice Arena against another Big Ten opponent, Michigan State (4-2).

“At the end of the day, we generally don’t care,” Powers said. "We are just taking it game-by-game, just like we have, to put us into this position. We are focused on one thing ... and all the rankings and polls and all of that stuff will take care of itself.”

As the season progresses, ASU will continue to play stellar programs. Powers understands the talent MSU possesses and the strong coaching the team has with second-year coach Danton Cole.

“We are going to have to be very good,” Powers said. “I told our guys, ‘It doesn’t get any easier the rest of the season.’”

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