In its short lifespan, Mullett Arena has hosted a plethora of different sporting events, spanning from the Arizona Coyotes to various ASU sports.
However, this Wednesday, the women's hockey teams representing USA and Canada are taking the ice at Mullett and facing off in a rivalry matchup against one another.
The matchup is the first in a seven-game series that will take place between 2023 and 2024, spanning numerous locations in both countries. The Rivalry Series dates back to 2019, and while the teams have played in California and Nevada, this is the first rivalry game in Arizona.
While hockey is still gaining popularity in the West, it remains the same game for its players, regardless of location.
“It’s interesting, I’m watching everybody walk in board shorts and flip flops,” U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach John Wroblewski said. “So that’s a little bit of a difference. But I think, for the most part, hockey becomes a rather homogenous sport in terms of you have to have dedication and toughness and work ethic to play it.”
The location change has helped the players to improve and grow their team dynamic. For Canada, head coach Troy Ryan credits the most significant change to the lack of experience the women have played together due to them being selected from across all of Canada.
Arizona has given the team the opportunity to change that.
“This location has been good for just being able to get outside, do some hikes, and we actually have a team-building activity this evening we’re going to do in Scottsdale,” Ryan said. “A lot of it is just actually trying to enjoy their surroundings, enjoy their time together, and build a team dynamic environment. That's really what this whole Rivalry Series is all about.”
Mullett Arena itself also provides benefits to team practices.
“I love the versatility that we’ve got with the double rinks and the amenities,” Wroblewski said. “All of Winnipeg kicked over to the practice rink and allowed us to have the main rink yesterday. I thought that was just a classy move that you wouldn’t see from every NHL team. The Arizona State staff has been accommodating … really good people in the community and at the rink.”
The public has started to notice the benefits of Arizona hockey as the sport has accumulated more attention over the past few years. In the 2019-2020 Rivalry Series, the teams played the final game in front of 13,320 fans. They broke the record for the most-attended women’s national hockey game in the United States.
This record was set here in the Southwest, in Anaheim, CA.
With their momentum, ASU’s women’s club hockey team is gaining more attention. The Sun Devils compete in ACHA Division 1 as one of the furthest West teams in the league. Last season, they claimed the conference title and made nationals for the first time in program history.
The season’s script is oddly similar to Coach Ryan’s earlier coaching episodes when his first experience coaching women’s hockey was a club team. He says that the team is now winning national championships at their level and that exposing club teams like the Sun Devils to different aspects of the game is excellent.
“It’s great for a club team like that to be exposed to this level of hockey,” Ryan said. "So I think any of these communities that we can come in and showcase the game a little bit, it’s special.”
ASU freshman defenseman Sophie Fausel says most of the club team will be in attendance tonight, as the team has the opportunity to learn from the national teams and how they play.
“We can learn a lot through their intensity on the ice and their bench energy,” Fausel said. “Team Canada and Team USA are both great role models for us and for any other younger girls, hockey players that are gonna be watching.”
Fausel previously played for the Arizona Kachinas, another women’s hockey program in the state, and has seen the sport accelerate in the Valley. She says some women may not want to leave their friends and families to pursue hockey in other places, such as Minnesota or Michigan.
Thus, they have the inspiration to develop it in their own backyards.
“I feel like a bunch of girls have come together, and the organizations have been a lot of help,” Fausel said. “They’ve made a better community for it, and just the support from the Coyotes and a bunch of other organizations have really made girls want to stay in Arizona and want to grow the game more.”
The game also showcases players traveling to Arizona to play hockey, including USA forward Laila Edwards, who will be the first African-American woman to play for the country’s national team.
“It’s great, I take a lot of pride in it,” Edwards said. “I’m super excited, and I’m glad I can hopefully be an inspiration to someone after me.”
While this is her first time in Arizona, Edwards says it’s a great idea to continue the expansion of women’s hockey and to make it more popular in the West. It’s a path already ablaze, and the USA team witnesses the sport’s presence.
“Last year, we got a taste of it in Seattle,” Wroblewski said. “There was a few hundred young girls at even just our practices there. Any type of positive impact we can have on an individual, dozens or hopefully thousands, as things wane on, it’s just impactful, and I believe in that.”
Edited by Vincent Deangelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan