ASU hockey has put together a veteran-led team going into the 2021-22 season, led by graduate defenseman Jacob Wilson and graduate forward Johnny Walker, both of whom are returning as captains and graduate forward Willie Knierim and senior forward Jordan Sandhu joining as alternate captains.
Head coach Greg Powers realized the amount of experience and leadership he had with this particular captain group and took advantage of the strength in numbers.
“They've literally been through everything you can go through and in every situation you could be put (through) in college," Powers said. “It's valuable to have that when you have players that have been through as much as they have.”
Wilson, Walker and Knierim all had post-collegiate options they could have gone for, but ultimately, they all decided it was best to stick around for one more year.
“With guys like Johnny, because of his injury (last season), a good month left into the season he decided to come back,” Powers said. “Wilson and Knierim could have left. I think they were kind of going back and forth and decided the best thing for their futures was to come back, get their master’s and go throughout the season with us.”
Wilson said flashing the “C” on his jersey for the second straight season is making his decision to represent the maroon and gold for the fifth-straight year a whole lot easier.
“I love it here. Who wouldn’t want to go five years at ASU?” Wilson said. “I think it was an easy decision to come back and not rush things and enjoy the process.”
When looking back to his year as co-captain in the 2020-21 season, Wilson notices a difference in mindset for the team coming into the 2021-22 season with a full schedule locked in and ready to be played.
“There’s more of a drive. We got a little bite to our game, and we’re going to be ready to go,” Wilson said. “Last year you were kind of just sitting around and getting antsy because we didn’t know we were starting until a couple weeks before, so this year we have a start date, and we’ve been working hard towards it.”
Wilson gave credit to his co-captain Walker and the alternates Knierim and Sandhu, while also touching on the overall leadership presence they aim to create for the rest of the team.
“They’re all leaders for a reason. Johnny's a goal scorer so if you got any issues with that kind of the game, he’s kind of the guy you're going to go to,” Wilson said. “Willie (Knierim) and (Jordan) Sandhu are great guys off the ice. The guys can come talk to us whenever they want and we have to have that vision and instill that into the team.”
Knierim has some leadership experience under his belt, formerly being an alternate captain for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League during the 2018-19 season. This will be Knierim's first season as an alternate captain for the Sun Devils.
“It feels good that the coaches trust me with that. We have so many leaders on our team,” Knierim said.
Knierim spoke highly of Wilson and Walker, saying Wilson always does the right thing on and off the ice, and Walker, who grew up in Arizona, is the perfect poster boy for Sun Devil hockey. Knierim also praised Sandhu, who is sporting the "A" on his jersey for the first time.
“Jordan Sandhu is one of the best teammates I’ve ever been around, if not the best," Knierim said. "He has no agenda. He cares for the team. He would do anything that you ask him to, and he really just puts the team ahead of himself every time."
This year's ASU hockey captain class consists of three fifth-year players and one senior. Having such a deep veteran presence helps mold the foundation that ASU hockey is looking for in order to meet its high aspirations.
“We have a bunch of guys here, and we have a very old team,” Knierim said. “It’s nice, but it’s going to take a village for us.”
ASU hockey will kick off the 2021-22 season against University of Massachusetts Lowell on Oct. 2 and 3 at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.
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Austin Scott is a sports reporter majoring in Sports Journalism, and has been writing sports stories for three years. He looks to continue writing impactful, engaging sports stories for years to come. In the future, Austin wants to use his outgoing personality to do play-by-play and live sports production or sports radio and podcasting.