Looking to build off a strong freshman campaign, sophomore forward Ryan Alexander has had some adversity to battle through.
Alexander burst on the scene in Tempe last season, netting 11 goals while assisting on six. Of the forwards who played over 30 games last season, Alexander was one of two with a positive plus/minus, with a +1 on the season.
The 17-point season doesn’t show the complete picture of his 2022-23 season, because by the end of his campaign, Alexander had reached a breaking point with a nagging hip injury.
“Around the end of last year, it was just really bad, so I opted to get hip surgery," Alexander said. "It was a lengthy recovery time, about four months. I stopped working out, I stopped skating, and then kind of jumped back in the swing of things when the season started, which was a lot for me and my legs, so it’s been difficult to get the conditioning up and my legs back to themselves.”
Many of Alexander’s Sun Devil teammates have talked about how hard the coaching staff and trainers pushed them during their intense training camp. Not being able to participate in the preseason work entirely took a toll on the ASU forward, but he said he has managed to keep his mind right throughout the process of building back up to where he was last season.
“It’s definitely tough; all your teammates are on the ice, working out every day, and you're just kind of sitting on the couch, doing some rehab, but you’re not doing much,” Alexander said. “It’s tough, especially when they’re so far ahead of you. It is what it is. Everyone goes through something, so at this point, it’s discouraging, but you can’t use it as an excuse. At this point of the season, you have to be on par, competing to get better every day.”
Alexander has featured in a handful of games this season already, and head coach Greg Powers has liked the progress his second-year forward has made.
“He’s a Swiss army knife,” Powers said. “We knew he’d have a little bit of a slow start, getting his conditioning back up, but it’s starting to get there. His role is going to expand from more than what you saw last year.”
As a freshman last season, Alexander had to prove himself to his coaches and teammates, which he was able to do.
What isn’t as easy to do is establishing yourself as a leader and speaking up when needed. While Alexander tends to let his play do the talking, his confidence to step up and say something has grown.
“Obviously, as a freshman, you don’t have a voice; you’re kind of just told to shut up and listen,” Alexander said. “Which is good because everyone has got to be a follower at one point to be a good leader. Obviously, if I see something where I want to say something to help better the team, I’m not scared to say it.”
The Sun Devil roster has had a lot of turnover in the past few seasons. For their Friday night game against Stonehill College, their top two forward lines were entirely composed of transfers from the past two offseasons.
While Alexander was scratched for the Friday night game, presumably due to Powers' increased emphasis on managing his players better after an injury-riddled season last year, he returned to the lineup Saturday.
Alexander has seen his fair share of new faces come through the door at Mullett Arena in his relatively short time being here. He described how this team emphasizes accountability more compared to last season.
“From the start of the year, it was great to see guys who were in early doing extra work consistently, everyone just seems to be a lot more bought in," Alexander said. "We have a lot of players, which pushes guys to wanna be better and make the lineup, so I just think it’s a better competitive environment. Everyone's close, there’s no big egos, just a good room.”
A guy who’s seen even more Sun Devil hockey than Alexander, senior forward Benji Eckerle, had a similar assessment of the camaraderie of ASU’s squad this season.
“When we’re out there for practice or in meetings, everyone’s on the same page," Eckerle said. "It’s huge, it’s indescribably important to where we’re going to go and how much success we’re going to have this year.”
Powers was not thrilled with his team's performance against Stonehill, saying the team was looking ahead to their matchup this weekend against the No.2 Denver Pioneers in Mullett Arena.
The Sun Devils will look to avenge their losses against Denver last season when they got swept on the road. Puck drop this weekend is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan