A three-man race for ASU hockey's starting goalie position

Coach Greg Powers believes ASU could win with any competing member in the starting spot

A new season has brought new challenges for the ASU hockey team, fresh off the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance last year, the team must replace star goaltender Joey Daccord.

Last season's success was in large part thanks to Daccord, now a member of the Ottawa Senators organization in the NHL

Read More: ASU hockey goalie Joey Daccord signs NHL deal with Ottawa Senators

Now that Daccord is making strides at the pro level, his departure from the NCAA leaves a void in the Sun Devils’ lineup. A void that, fortunately for head coach Greg Powers, comes with multiple potential replacements for the 2019-20 season — Max Prawdzik, Evan DeBrouwer and Justin Robbins.

Daccord, who appeared in 35 games for the Sun Devils last season, recorded a 2.35 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, was the first Sun Devil to sign an NHL entry-level contract and appear in a game, making him a trailblazer for the school’s hockey program.

“The Joey Daccord era is done," Powers said. "What we’re telling our goalies is to be you, don’t be Joey. Be yourself. You’re not here because we thought that you could be like Joey, you’re here because we liked what we saw in you.”

With the "Joey Daccord era" in the rear view mirror, Powers and the team are confident in the guys they have.

“All of them look good. I truly believe I could put any three of them in and we could win," Powers said. "Max (Prawdzik) did get three of the five starts (in China), (DeBrouwer) didn’t go on the trip. It was unfortunate ... but he stayed back and worked out hard and he’s looking really good in practice. There are also days where Justin Robbins looks really good, too, so ... we love our depth.”

The three candidates vary in playing styles and had very different journeys to Tempe.

Prawdzik, a graduate transfer from Boston University, only played in three games for the Terriers last season. He was the backup goaltender to Jake Oettinger, a first-round selection by the Dallas Stars in the 2017 NHL Entry Level Draft.

Now that Prawdzik is a Sun Devil, he has a golden opportunity in front of him, and joining such a tight-knit team has helped with the transition to a new program.

“I think the first thing I really liked about coming here was that we’ve done a lot of team building stuff,” Prawdzik said. “So, that’s one thing I’ve appreciated is that I feel really close with the team right now even though I haven’t been here for a super long period of time.”

Although he is new to the program, he’s not shy about the competition — in fact, he thrives off of it. 

But, in the midst of a three-player race for the starting job, the players believe that team success supersedes individual achievement.

“The appeal (of the program) was when I was talking to Coach Powers about how coming here was just a true open battle,” Prawdzik said. “It’s truly an open net. Whoever is the best is going to play. Nobody’s drafted, there are no outside pressures to play a goalie other than who’s going to give our team the best chance to win, and that’s the most attractive situation that I could find.”

Prawdzik's feelings on team success were echoed by DeBrouwer.

The sophomore only made one appearance for the Sun Devils in his rookie campaign. Now, he will have the chance to compete for more ice time.

“At the end of the day it’s a competition within the three of us to see who gets start, but it’s a healthy competition and we all get along really well, so it’s been awesome," he said. "They are just great guys and we’ve gotten along really well with team building activities and stuff like that so I think we have a really good relationship right off the bat.”

Robbins, a freshman, has already made a strong first impression in the locker room. 

Before arriving on campus, he posted a .874 save percentage in his final season for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League. Now, he too has to adjust to a new environment, new team and new competition for this season.

"It's been good," Robbins said of the goalie battle. "Obviously, two of us are new. (DeBrouwer) played behind a guy who dominated the net, so I think all three of us are trying to push each other and get better every day and I think we've gotten along well."

Like Powers mentioned, bringing one’s own individual game to the ice is key, even if there are high expectations heading into a new season. DeBrouwer has taken that to heart and remains optimistic about his play.

“You really just have to focus on your own game and do what you’re good at,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s what’s going to bring you success. If you start trying to do what other guys are good at, then that’s not your game and it’s not going to be successful.”

Regardless of who ends up with the top spot on the depth chart, the trio will be leaned on heavily in ASU's pursuit of consecutive NCAA Tournament berths.

“We can all be really good goalies for our team,” Prawdzik said. "We all do things differently from each other and I think a major key is just being yourself and worrying about winning. If you give your team a chance to win, that’s all you can ask for.”

Reporter Leo Tochterman contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at averyklatsky@gmail.com and follow @averyklatsky on Twitter. 

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