Success strips ASU hockey of 'underdog' label heading into new season

The Sun Devils are ranked No. 20 in a preseason poll, coming off a 21-win season

After winning 21 games and making the program's first NCAA tournament in the 2018-19 season, the ASU hockey team showed the nation they are a program on the rise under fifth-year head coach Greg Powers.

Now ranked No. 20 in the United States College Hockey Online preseason poll, the Sun Devils are ready for a new challenge. 

“I don’t think anyone’s gonna take us lightly,” Powers said. “We made the tournament as an independent — I think we’ve proved we belong at this level. We’re taking steps. So we’re not necessarily the underdog anymore.”

Senior forward Tyler Busch added that the team will be taking "the same approach" to this season.

“But we’re not gonna sneak up on or surprise any teams this year," he said. "We’re gonna get everyone’s best.”

ASU's 2019-20 schedule includes Denver and Minnesota State, the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams in the USCHO preseason poll. 

Later in the season, the Sun Devils will also take on No. 19 Harvard, No. 8 Quinnipiac, No. 10 Clarkson and No. 16 Wisconsin. 

Following last year's success, ASU had an eventful offseason, as the team traveled to Beijing, China and captured the Fu Xing Cup.

“I think the China trip was great for getting us in game shape,” Busch said. “A lot of teams in college hockey ... have a brand new group of guys (early in the season), and there’s a new feeling around the locker room. We’ve gotten that out of the way already, and I think that’s really good for us.”

Continuing to build chemistry between ASU's returners and new additions will be key to the Sun Devils' success this season. Five seniors moved on from the program, and the arrival of seven freshmen this season could be crucial in softening those losses. The more seamlessly the freshmen are integrated, the smoother the transition.

“We’re gelling really well,” said junior forward Johnny Walker, whose 23 goals last season were tied for second in the NCAA. "You get to learn about each other, turn in your phones and put the rest of the world away.”

Freshman forward Logan Jenuwine is one of the prized offensive additions to the roster. He was a dominant force in the North American Hockey League, where he set new records for most goals scored in a season. However, he knows NCAA hockey is a different animal altogether, especially when it comes to goalies.

“They’re that much bigger, they’re that much faster,” Jenuwine said. “I thought coming in, that would give me the most problems. After being here a couple of months, we have three of the best goalies, debatably, in college hockey, so practicing with them every day has made me so much better.”

Goaltending is also an intriguing story for ASU this season after last season's starter Joey Daccord signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators in April.

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

However, the most important goaltending addition may have been to the coaching staff with former NHL goaltender Eddie Läck coming on board as a volunteer coach.

Powers said Läck's goaltending knowledge and experience will have a profound impact on that position group.

As a whole, the team will look to build on last season's taste of success. With a blend of veteran leadership and fresh faces, it seems like the sky is the limit for the program.

The season will begin Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:05 p.m. MST when ASU will host Mercyhurst for a two-game series in Tempe.


Reach the reporter at cvanligt@asu.edu and follow @Connor_VL on Twitter. 

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