Ryan Belonger might be the most talented hockey player in Arizona State history.
The 22-year-old forward comes into Tempe with all the hype he deserves. He's the second player in the Greg Powers era to make a clean transfer from an NCAA Division I program (Brian McGinty was the first) and he's on his way to Arizona State.
He wasn't happy at Northeastern. He was looking to get out, and luckily for Arizona State hockey fans, his best friend knew a place where he could be happy.
Jordan Young is already credited by coach Greg Powers with the recruiting revolution of sorts in the Arizona State hockey program. The junior defenseman and assistant captain was the first player Powers brought in from the United States Hockey League, the top junior hockey league in the country.
His recruitment opened the eyes for other USHL players that it was OK to come to Arizona State to play hockey. This year's Sun Devil squad has seven USHL veterans on the team, by far the highest amount in the ACHA.
The USHL is when Young and Belonger met. Their friendship sparked then, when they were Youngstown Phantoms and years later, they finally get to play again as Arizona State Sun Devils.
"In juniors we always dreamed about playing with each other," Young said. "We said we'd do whatever we could, and we finally found a way."
After the 2011-12 season, they went different ways. Young came to Tempe to play ACHA hockey at Arizona State, while Belonger received a scholarship to play NCAA at Northeastern.
It was at Northeastern Belonger got to live every young hockey player's dream. He played at a well-known Division I school, he averaged 30 games per year, and even played at Fenway Park. In the Frozen Fenway game against UMass Lowell in January, he dressed in the locker room of the Boston Red Sox.
Still, something wasn't right. He felt a sort of dead-end feeling, in that he wasn't getting the playing time he would have liked and saw no way of getting out of a rut. The team went 19-14-4, fifth in the conference and missed the postseason.
"I wasn't all that happy, and just needed to make a change," Belonger said.
He came out to Arizona this summer to hang out with Young. In a Youngstown reunion of sorts, Young - whether intentionally or not - sold his friend on Arizona State.
"After coming out here, and realizing everything we had to offer and how much of a good time it is, and enjoying the last two years of school was pretty much the deciding factor," Young said. "He just saw an opportunity here that he liked and just jumped on it."
But of course it wasn't that easy. Belonger was giving up a spot on an NCAA team to come play ACHA hockey.
It's not exactly like that's a common thing to do. Rare is the player who makes the jump from ACHA to NCAA, but rarer is the player who wants to do the opposite. Once the player makes up his mind, convincing his team, friends and family that it's the right call is the next step.
"It's just something that once I showed I was committed to, I had a lot of support," Belonger said. "First of all, it as my parents. My mom and my dad and my family. That was the biggest thing for me, getting them on board. I'm looking to have some fun from there."
It seems, that everyone is going to have some fun with Belonger on board.
"He's like a do-all, be-all kind of guy," Young said. "He's just a complete player."
Coach Greg powers said he was in shock when he got the call.
"Clearly a kid with his pedigree is going to come in and have a big role," Powers said. "We're just thrilled he's coming."
Belonger played on the third and fourth lines at Northeastern. In Tempe, it's impossible to see him any lower than the second line. The only reason he wouldn't be on the top line is if Powers did not want to upset any chemistry between top-line locks Ryan Ostertag and Liam Norris, as well as whoever plays with them.
Belonger said he's excited to be at Arizona State. He said he's looking forward to finding his role on the team, and is thrilled with his decision to transfer.
Also, it couldn't have hurt Belonger's decision to hear that his buddy won a national championship.
"Sunday when we had our first team meeting, they all got their rings," Belonger said. "Everybody had them on right away, and that was motivating for me for sure. I didn't want to touch the ring, jinx anything, I just know I want mine next year."
Now armed with NCAA talent, it would be tough to argue with the fact the Sun Devils aren't paving the way for second consecutive national championship.