The news that Arizona State hockey would be an NCAA team sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world. Everyone with a connection to hockey, from the Arizona-based writers to national scribes are weighing in, including Chris Peters of CBSSports.com, who penned his own thoughts at CBS' Eye on Hockey blog. We had a chance to sit down with Peters and hear more of his take on the Sun Devils' move.
House of Sparky: Let's start with the obvious: What are your thoughts on Arizona State's elevation to NCAA and what does it mean for college hockey?
Chris Peters: It's tough to even know where to begin with that one. I think it's fair to call it one of the most significant moments in the history of college hockey. Arizona may not be uncharted territory for college hockey, but it's a far different climate now. With Arizona State adding men's hockey, it has great potential to become a domino effect into the West. I think there have been a lot of people dreaming of a Pac 12 hockey conference for a long time. It may never come to fruition, but Arizona State creates the opportunity. Even if there is no domino effect, ASU is another big-name school in the college hockey world. It instantly becomes one of the most unique campus offerings in college hockey, which helps for recruiting and it also expands college hockey's footprint into a large market. It's great for pretty much everyone.
HoS: You used to cover Iowa State's ACHA team. What differences do you see between that team in the 2000s to Arizona State's team now?
CP: I don't know that there was a whole lot different. The years I was at ISU, we had some great teams, but couldn't quite seem to get over the hump at the national tournament. We did win a CSCHL championship, which remains one of the highlights of my involvement in hockey. We had our own rink that was technically off campus, but was no further than the other sporting complexes. ISU has had hockey since the 1970s and had built such a rich tradition at the club level, which was really great to be a part of. I think every team that's in the ACHA would tell you that they wished their school had an NCAA Division I team. That's still a dream I hold for my own school. To see both Penn State and Arizona State do it I think keeps that dream alive for a lot of other ACHA schools. It might take a big donation, but to see schools of that stature believe in college hockey is pretty special.
HoS: The true five-star recruits aren't going to be swayed by just the weather. How much of a recruiting advantage will Arizona State really have?
CP: You're exactly right about that, Justin. The best players still want to go to a school that is going to prepare them to get to the next level. That's the biggest reason schools like Boston College, Boston University, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota continually get the best players. They all have long track records of developing NHL players. That's something that ASU can't compete with at this point. Coach Powers is going to have to sell himself as much as he sells the campus and other aspects. I think he's earned the right to try and I don't want to take anything away from his coaching. Any new program is going to have the same recruiting challenges as ASU, but the campus, the name recognition and the opportunity for California/Arizona based players to stay closer to home helps offset some of the challenges, but for the best players hockey and development will be at the heart of their decision.
HoS: Do you think the weather will help recruit programs to come play against Arizona State? It seems like schools would be itching to escape the winter cold for a weekend in Tempe.
CP: I think it absolutely helps. And as has been so often mentioned, there's the allure for players from California to not travel all the way east for their choice of school. They've never had an opportunity like this to stay so close to home. The atmosphere at ASU, the weather, all of that stuff will matter, but I don't know that it will be one of the major factors in a player ultimately choosing the school to play hockey at. It'll definitely help though.
HoS: What would be the best conference for the Sun Devils to join when they do join one in 2017? We've heard either the WCHA or NCHC.
To me, their best bet is the NCHC both geographically and in terms of marketability. The NCHC already has some of the powers of college hockey, which will provide the competition that will best help ASU to attract better players. Ideally, ASU would get some of their natural rivals to sign up for D1 hockey, but that could be years down the road. Having the chance to play against North Dakota, Denver, Miami, etc. is going to provide the entertainment value for the fans as well. They may not know these schools as well as Arizona or USC, but they'll get a good show.
HoS: Do you think a Pac-12 hockey conference is something we'll see down the road?
CP: So much would have to go right, but I think it's far more possible now than it ever has been. A lot of this could depend on how successful ASU becomes and how long it takes them to achieve some success. If schools get a good example that they can jump in and be competitive and be financially viable, then there could be some movement. I will say that I hope we see it some day, but I think it's going to be difficult to get enough conference schools involved for it to be a full-fledged conference.
HoS: Quite simply will this work? Is Arizona State a viable destination for college hockey?
CP: I'm optimistic it will. I'd feel a lot better if there were more details up front about the plans moving forward, but I understand that the program is going to try to lay out a more definitive plan within the year. My main concerns currently include how quickly this transition is taking place and how the rink situation is going to work. So, I can't say for sure if it will work. I can say that I hope it does, that I think it should work and that it's going to be a lot of work for several years. It's such a unique situation, which I think is as exciting as it is scary. If this is planned well and there's a long-term vision in place within the next six months, I don't see any way it won't work even if it takes a little while to really get going.