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Sun Devils prepare to face off in an exhibition against cross-state rival Wildcats

Coach Powers said the team has a hard-nosed mentality as ASU prepares to host Arizona at Mullett Arena

221014 Hockey vs Colgate(RVA)-49.jpg
ASU junior forward Ryan O'Reilly (39) skates up the wing at Mullett Arena on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022 in Tempe. ASU beat Colgate 2-0.

In their last season before entering the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Sun Devil Hockey will return to the ice on Friday for a home exhibition matchup with its Arizona Wildcats rivals. 

In its first year at Mullett last season, ASU finished with an 18-21-0 record. A season defined by many highs and lows. But, for its first game action this season, ASU will face a less-talented American Collegiate Hockey Association club team. The Sun Devils don’t get to face off with Arizona very often and despite the favorable odds, don’t want to underestimate their biggest rivals.

READ MORE: ASU hockey joins NCHC for 2024-25 season

“I told our guys, don’t take them lightly because you never know,” coach Greg Powers said. “You know damn well (Arizona) is going to come up and give their very best effort, it’s their Stanley Cup.” 

The team understands what it means to the faithful Sun Devil fans to beat Arizona but is more focused on playing their brand of hockey. A brand of brute force, speed and grit is what Powers has in mind this season.

“We have the skill, I’m not worried about that at all,” Powers said. “We want the mentality where you come (to Mullett Arena) and we’re dropping a steel cage over the ice.” 

To accomplish this feat, ASU added 6-foot-2 graduate student forward Tyler Gratton. Gratton played for four years at Penn State. Last season, he and the Nittany Lions were one overtime goal away from a trip to the Frozen Four in the Big Ten tournament. 

Gratton said he knows his impact and understands his role as a leader. Nonetheless, he did not expect to be the only unanimously named captain among coaches and teammates in his first season with the Sun Devils. 

“Naturally I’m more of a leader, but I didn’t expect it,” Gratton said. “It was an honor … it’s not a one-and-done thing though, I still need to continue to be a leader.”

An experienced player in Gratton is a welcome sight for ASU, however, Powers is looking to implement the team's deep youth movement as the season begins. 

One of these standout freshmen is forward Matthew Romer. Romer played his last two seasons in the United States Hockey League for the Omaha Lancers, playing 58 games in the 2021-22. The next year, he wore the captain's patch in the 2022-23 season, playing in only 27 games due to an injury. Powers believes Romer is back to form and ready to make an impact.

“He’s seasoned, he’s polished … he’s healthier than he’s been in probably three years and he has been very, very good,” Powers said. 

Romer is among many freshmen getting prepared to play their first game in Mullett Arena, an arena where the Sun Devils will be playing a lot this year. ASU plays at home 27 times this season. 

“It’s a huge advantage, being able to do your routine and have everything the same for each and every game,” junior goalie TJ Semptimphelter said. “Home advantage with the fans, the energy in the building is behind us. Those things play the biggest factors.” 

Whether it’s on the road or at home in Tempe, this season’s hockey team is ready to compete with the best, starting Friday in an exhibition matchup against their intrastate adversaries. 

“You look up our lineup right now, it’s just consistent,” senior forward Ryan O’Reilly said. “If we keep everyone healthy throughout the season there's nobody that can stop us.” 

The puck drops at 7 p.m. for Friday's game at Mullett Arena against Arizona. Their first game against NCAA competition is against Merrimack College on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. at Mullett Arena.

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Jasmine Kabiri and Shane Brennan

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