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ASU Hockey: How the Sun Devils became a Division I team

It was a process with a lot of steps for ASU hockey to make the jump from club to Division I. Here is a complete breakdown of everything that happened.

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Nicole Vasquez

Eds: This story was done as a master's thesis project, defended April 14. All events (national signing day, schedule release, etc.) were not factored into the story.

Arizona is known for a lot of things: From the blistering heat of the summertime to the snowbirds of winter to Spring Training to the Grand Canyon.

What rarely comes to mind is hockey. The Arizona Coyotes have played in the state since 1996, but outside of the one NHL team, that strange, Canadian game on ice isn't associated with the Southwest.

Which is what made what happened on Nov. 18, 2014, that much more intriguing.


It was on that November day that ASU announced its club team would compete as an NCAA Division I program beginning in 2015-16. ASU followed the model set by Penn State, the last team to make the jump, by receiving a sizable private donation to fund the addition of a men's hockey program. But where Penn State received $102 million, ASU received $32 million.

"Other than the creation of hockey itself, there hasn't been a single event the sport can build off more," - Mike Snee

Penn State's hockey-to-NCAA talk began in 2010 when school officials went to alumnus Terry Pegula for non-hockey philanthropy and he changed the conversation. For ASU, it began when I asked the administration why ASU did not have varsity hockey.

I went to Athletic Director Ray Anderson's office on July 14, 2014 with the intention of answering the question as to why ASU was not an NCAA team and what the differences were. ASU had just won the national tournament at the club level and casual hockey fans asked what were the differences between the American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship and the Frozen Four.

Anderson was candid in his responses, essentially saying that money is the only thing keeping ASU from having a varsity program.

"I think a university of this size ... should be able to compete in any and every varsity sport that anybody else wants to compete in," Anderson said. "It's just a matter of figuring a way, financially and (while satisfying) gender equity, how you do that.

Anderson said it was his personal goal to be on the level of Stanford and Ohio State when it comes to offering sports for students to compete in. He was displeased that ASU did not have as many sports as schools like those.

"I think personally, that is a disservice to the student body, and to our community of folks who have affinity for athletics," Anderson said.

At the time, club coach Greg Powers estimated the team would need a financial of endowment of approximately $30 million, with annual operating budget of close to $1 million.

"I for one, have the personal goal of, before my run here is over, being able to have numerous varsity sports that currently don't exist here," Anderson said. "Men's hockey being one of them."

Anderson's words caused a stir within the college hockey world. While there had been ideas and rumors that ASU would like to make the leap, it was the first time any ASU official had stated so publicly.

Anderson did not back down from his comments. He was present at opening night of ASU's club season as well as many other games throughout the season. After a game in September, he went into the locker room and told the players personally he wanted to see the move to Division happen, according to team general manager Ken Lind, who was in the locker room.

"He told them he's trying very hard to elevate the program to what he calls varsity status," Lind said after the game. "He'll do the best he can to make sure that everything starts to match up, and at some point, if we keep performing and raise the appropriate amount of capital, this program could become a varsity sport."

Once again, Anderson's words struck a chord. Players had heard whispers after what he said in July that it was a possibility, but tried to not put too much stock in them. Then Anderson addressed them.

"I think we've all been hearing rumors from plenty of different places about it, but to hear it from him, the athletic director, really shows how realistic it could possibly be," defenseman Drew Newmeyer said. "When it comes from the athletic director's mouth, it's gotta be taken real seriously."

Then ASU called a press conference in November to make the move to Division I official. Anderson said at the press conference that the conversation got started with my article from July and he got a call a week later that donor was ready to go.

"We have the money, we want to do it, we can do it, why would we not do it?" - Ray Anderson

What was a process that lasted two years at Penn State took ASU four months.

ASU's donation came in two parts from two parties and totaled $32 million. The first party wished to remain anonymous throughout the process and still wishes not to be named. The second was led by Milwaukee businessman Don Mullett, whose son Chris played hockey at ASU when he was a student.

Powers said he received a call within hours of the July story's publishing from the donorship group saying that they were willing to pledge the amount it would take. Powers called Jim Rund, a senior vice president at ASU who had been the contact man for club sports and told him about the call.

Rund rushed to set up a meeting with Anderson and other high-ranking members of the ASU athletic department. They put the donors on a conference call, where they confirmed their interest in making the largest donation to athletics in school history.

From there, things moved rapidly. The next two months were constant meetings, including flights to Milwaukee to meet with Mullett and the other donor, according to Powers.

"The biggest thing I've learned from Ray (Anderson) throughout this whole process is that the easiest thing to do in life is to say ‘no' and the hardest thing to do is say ‘yes,' " Powers said. "It's true, it's so easy to say ‘no.' "

Anderson could have said "no" at any point. It would not have surprised anyone to hear a school's athletic director say that this was not the right time for a hockey team. It happened before Anderson arrived. Powers said one of the donors contacted former ASU Athletic Director Steve Patterson about his interest in a hockey team. It was a short conversation; Patterson had no interest.

"Too many times people want to talk about why you can't do things," Anderson said. "(This) got us thinking about how we get things done."

The process of making sure everything got done in the right away, and making sure due diligence was done went smoothly. Powers said there were potential roadblocks that had him worried at certain points, but Anderson, Powers and the group found ways to get around each one.

ASU would need to find a similar women's sport to make sure Title IX regulations were met. The new hockey team would need an arena to play. ASU would need a hockey conference and along with many other things, each one was solved, or at least postponed until could be solved a later date.

"At the end of the day, if you have the financing and you can verify that the financing will sustain the programs that you are proposing for a reasonable period of time, then it's a matter of will," Anderson said. "If you have the financing, it is an obligation on the athletic director and an administration and a president to do everything you can to add those additional student-athlete opportunities.

"It's hard to argue against expanded collegiate opportunities for student-athletes particularly when you know you have the resources to pay for it."

asu hockey press conference

From left: Chris Mullett, Don Mullett, Greg Powers, Ray Anderson at the press conference announcing the Division I move (Ashley Czarnecki/ASU Hockey)

At the press conference, Anderson stressed one of the biggest positives about the move was that it gave ASU an opportunity to be entrepreneurial. At a time when other schools are shutting down sports (not just non-revenue sports: the University of Alabama-Birmingham would announce the shutdown of its football program two weeks after ASU's announcement), ASU was adding them.

"This notion of college hockey in the West was real and it can really be expanded and explode if Arizona State stepped up, then it became clear that it was a must-do," Anderson said. "There was just no way we weren't going to do it.

"We have the money, we want to do it, we can do it, why would we not do it?"


The last school to elevate its club hockey team to varsity level was Penn State, which did so in 2012. The dialogue began when the Penn State president and athletic director contacted alumnus Terry Pegula about his interest in donating to the University.

Former president Graham Spanier hoped Pegula would donate to the University's College of Earth and Mineral Science, from which Pegula graduated in 1973. Former athletic director Tim Curley wanted him to donate to the school's tennis program, as Pegula's daughter Jessica plays professionally in the International Tennis Federation.

Pegula had made his wealth from founding East Resources, a company specializing in natural gas drilling. He went on to purchase the NHL's Buffalo Sabres in 2011 and the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 2014.

Spanier and Curley went to Pegula and asked his interest in donating to his old school.

"Terry said he would like to do that, but that he was even more interested in hockey," Spanier said. "What he would like to do first is help Penn State to move to the upper echelons of the world of collegiate hockey."

The problem with that, Spanier said, is that the athletic department and the University had no financial plan for that to happen. He told Pegula the University would need an arena, scholarships and a way to satisfy Title IX equity. The entire amount needed would have to be donated, not raised by the school, Spanier told him.

Pegula agreed. In 2010, he donated $102 million to fund an NCAA Division I hockey team.

"We knew this was going to be a game-changer. We knew this was going to be transformational." - Joe Battista

The donation breakdown ended up being $89 million for the ice facility and $13 million to the scholarships. The revenue brought in by the men's team would help to fund a women's team as well in order to make sure the school remained compliant with Title IX.

From there, things couldn't have gone much better for Penn State. The state-of-the-art Pegula Ice Arena opened in 2013.

"It's turned out to be a great success," Spanier said.

The financial projections called for ticket sales on average of 4,000-5,000 per night to have a sufficient revenue stream to pay for a women's team, which it far exceeded by averaging 6,011 fans the first season, according to College Hockey News. The school also created a student section with upwards of 1,000 seats, premium seating, suites, luxury boxes and concessions.

"There was a lot of local interest in it," Curley said. "Geographically, it was a really great spot for ice hockey. We had the (NHL's Philadelphia) Flyers and (Pittsburgh) Penguins anchoring both ends of our state. We had the (American Hockey League's) Hershey Bears in the central part of the state. We had the (East Coast Hockey League's) Johnstown Chiefs and certainly the Buffalo Sabres just north of us and then Canada is not that far away from State College.

"Hockey was really picking up at the high school and club level and a lot of new rinks were being built within the state of Pennsylvania but really there was just more interest, more participation in the younger people playing the sport. I really thought we could be really successful."

Once Penn State decided it was going to join the NCAA ranks, it needed a conference to join, and that move completely altered the hockey landscape. To form a legitimate NCAA conference, six teams needed to be present, which will also affect ASU in the coming years. The Big Ten Conference, which housed Penn State in its other sports, did not support hockey; it had only five of its schools playing Division I hockey.

Big Ten schools Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State competed in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) along with eight other non-Big Ten schools, while the other two hockey-playing Big Ten schools, Minnesota and Wisconsin, played in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).

When Penn State announced it would be joining the NCAA, the Big Ten announced it would form the Big Ten hockey conference, taking its schools from the CCHA and WCHA and combining them with Penn State.

The CCHA was hoping to add Penn State as its 12th school, but instead saw itself crumble. Miami of Ohio and Western Michigan left to join the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) shortly there after, and five more members left to the WCHA. Notre Dame, the final CCHA member, went to join the Hockey East and the CCHA officially disbanded in 2013.

It was an easy decision for the Big Ten schools to leave their hockey-only conferences and join the parent conference. They were able to get name-brand recognition from a Power Five conference as well as have their games broadcast on the new Big Ten Network, of which Spanier said he was a part-creator.

Before it ever had a chance to play varsity hockey, the team dominated at the club level, competing in Division I of the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The Penn State Icers, as the club team was called, missed the ACHA national tournament only twice between 1982 and 2012, and not at all from 1993 to the end of its time at the club level. Penn State won seven national titles, still the ACHA Division I record, and played in 10 consecutive national title games from 1998-2007.

Because of the team's success, Curley and the athletic department had engaged in internal discussions about elevation to NCAA.

"We had done a number of studies to look at what would be required, what the budget might look like, support staff, coaching staff, etc.," Curley said. "We put it on hold at that point, because we didn't have the finances to make it all possible. We knew we needed to find a donor."

Curley said the plans sat dormant for years until Pegula came along. Once Pegula sold East Resources in 2010 for a reported $4.7 billion, he was ready to make ice hockey a reality. And once he did, things took off. Penn State finished its first NCAA season 13-14-0, then stumbled in 2013-14, going 8-26-2 in its first season in the Big Ten.

asu hockey penn state

In Penn State's first NCAA season, the Sun Devils went in and split a series, beating Penn State in Happy Valley in 2012 (Allyson Cummings/WCSN)

Joe Battista said those internal discussions were more serious inside the hockey team before it made it to University officials. Battista took over as head coach of Penn State's ACHA team in 1987 and said it was always the dream for the institution to be elevated to Division I. Battista said he began talking with Pegula about it and 2005 and by his estimation, the team made nine formal proposals to the athletic department about an NCAA move.

"Some failed miserably, some got close, ultimately all were rejected," Battista said. "It was clear, made very clear to us that the only way it would ever happen was with a large, private gift."

As with anything, it came down to money for Penn State. Once the money became available, it became realistic.

"We knew this was going to be a game-changer," Battista said. "We knew this was going to be transformational."

Penn State provided a model in which to make a leap from the ACHA to the NCAA happen. Penn State established that a price point existed. But it was that price point that was a red flag to other schools. Asking for $102 million for a hockey program is a bit pricey even for comparable schools, and not every school had a billionaire hockey fan alumnus.

"That was kind of the misconception out there," Powers said. "Everyone had that, ‘well it's going to take a $100 million to go NCAA, nobody is going to come up with that kind of money.' It doesn't. It doesn't take that."

What ASU did was change the model. At $32 million, ASU's donation was 31 percent of the size as Penn State's, which is a far more realistic goal for other schools which might be considering adding hockey. Though Penn State's donation included funding for an arena. For ASU that money still needs to be fundraised.

The drawbacks of a smaller donation are obvious. ASU won't have the facility of Penn State's quality simply because part of Pegula's donation to Penn State included an $89 million arena. Pegula wanted to make sure that no expense was spared and Penn State would instantly become one of the premier teams in the sport.

"Not everyone is going find someone to give the $100 million, but you don't need that," Battista said. "We did not have to build the double-sheet masterpiece that we did.

"The Penn State model isn't going to be for everybody. ... This, what (they are) doing at Arizona State, is more doable for most schools."

When I spoke to Spanier on Oct. 23, it was before ASU's announcement that it would be joining the NCAA. He expressed concerns about possible move for ASU, citing multiple factors, including the location

One of the chief issues Spanier brought up was that Tempe (and by extension, Phoenix) is a much more lively community than State College, Pa., speaking specifically in terms of professional sports.

Phoenix is a market that boasts teams in the four major sports, as opposed to State College, which is 137 miles from Pennsylvania's nearest major sports market, Pittsburgh. For comparison's sake, the distance from Pittsburgh (which hosts the NHL's Penguins) to State College is 18 miles farther than the distance from ASU's Tempe campus to the University of Arizona.

Spanier said it would be a larger financial burden for an Arizona-based college hockey team to travel than it would be for one in State College. Penn State has its five natural Big Ten rivals, while no Pac-12 schools play hockey.

Geographically, the closest schools to Tempe are Colorado College and Air Force, both in Colorado Springs, 548 miles away and the University of Denver, 584 miles away. Outside of the state of Colorado, the closest schools are the University of Nebraska at Omaha (1024 miles) and Minnesota State in Mankato, which is 1,242 miles from Tempe.

From a financial standpoint, after Title IX equity is solved by adding another sport, the biggest issue might be the arena.


"The small place where we were playing club hockey was on its last legs," Spanier said. "We knew that within a year, but at the most two years, we were going to haver to about $10 million into that place to fix it up. ... We were going to have to dump a whole bunch of money into it, so we kind of saved having to cough that up by making the upgrade."

Sound familiar?


It's home now, but Oceanside Ice Arena won't host Sun Devil hockey forever.

ASU currently plays its home games at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe. It is a small, community rink that was never built with the intention of housing college hockey, much less NCAA Division I hockey. It will remain the home of ASU for next season, but not without major renovations. Powers was also quick to say that Oceanside will not house ASU forever.

"I want to make it abundantly clear," Powers said. "(Oceanside) is not, absolutely not, the permanent, long-term home for Sun Devil hockey."

But for the one season ASU will play there, Oceanside will look remarkably different. Adam Mims, the executive director at Oceanside, explained the changes the rink will undergo to be outfit for NCAA hockey.

The sheet of ice fits NCAA regulations, but the penalty boxes do not. The NCAA dictates that penalty boxes and the timekeeper's box be placed on the same side of the ice as team benches, so Oceanside will tear out the old ones and move them on the other side. Renovations for that are currently underway.

Outside of the boxes, the rest of the changes are for the fans. Oceanside plans on demolishing the youth hockey and ACHA Division II locker rooms that exist now in order to make more room for bleachers. Right now the bleachers extend between faceoff circles in either zone on the south side of the stadium. Next season the bleachers will stretch the full 200 feet from one end of the ice to the other. Another row of bleachers will be added above what exists now in order to create a bowl effect around the ice, Mims said.

More seats will be added into the northeast corner of the stadium, wrapping around the corner of the ice. Seats for ASU club games have been general admission, but that will change next season. Numbered seats will be put in with a staggered pricing system based on where fans want to sit. Bleachers will include heaters around them, fixing the common complaint about how cold Oceanside is.

When Oceanside was designed, it was made to cater to the youth hockey league that was its primary tenant, the Phoenix Firebirds of the Desert Youth Hockey Association. Their color scheme - red, white and blue - adorns Oceanside, as do large Firebirds logos on the ice and walls of the arena.

"Right now we're the home of ASU, but when you look at this building, you see Firebird hockey," Mims said.

No more. The arena is getting a facelift this summer, trading Firebirds's colors for that of the Sun Devils. The rink will gain a maroon and gold theme and will have a pitchfork decorate center ice. Oceanside is paying for the renovations entirely.

As a show of unity, the Firebirds will also be rebranding next season as the Jr. Sun Devils, meaning the redesign is for their benefit as well. The Jr. Sun Devils will play at Oceanside permanently, while the senior Sun Devils are on their way out.

ASU will call Oceanside home for 2015-16, but with the plan that its home may have more than one address. ASU is in negotiations with Gila River Arena, the Glendale arena that hosts Arizona Coyotes games, to play certain marquee games there.

Powers called the possibility of games against the rival University of Arizona (which will still be an ACHA team) "very likely." If ASU was to play host to tournaments, they would also be held presumably at Gila River Arena. Yale is reportedly coming to ASU next season and as a Division I team, and a high-profile program like Yale makes sense as a Gila River Arena candidate.

But a few games next season might not be the only time Gila River Arena could host ASU. Powers said he expects most of, if not all, ASU's games in 2016-17, the second year of ASU in the NCAA, to be played at Gila River Arena.

The NHL rarely plays games on back-to-back nights, meaning splitting ice time between the Coyotes and Sun Devils would not be a difficult task. The Coyotes would obviously have priority on scheduling, with ASU scheduling its home games on Coyotes' off-nights. There also exists the possibility of a double header, with ASU playing a matinee and the Coyotes finishing off the nightcap.

The Arizona Coyotes appear to be in favor of that. While stopping short of announcing that as reality, Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc told Peter Corbett of the Arizona Republic that discussions were underway. Powers and Anderson have both confirmed that ASU is speaking with the Coyotes.

But a wrinkle exists with the City of Glendale. Mayor Jerry Weiers appears less enthused about the idea of the Sun Devils playing their games in the city.

"We have a hard time filling it up with professional hockey," he told the Arizona Republic in March. "Whether (ASU hockey) brings in enough fans I really don't know.

The Coyotes have finished in the bottom three in attendance per game in the NHL since the 2007-08 season, including dead last in 2009-10, 2011-12 and 2013-14. They are expected to finish in the bottom three again in 2014-15.

According the Arizona Republic, Glendale does not control the booking of events at Gila River Arena. The city gets a surcharge on hockey games and concerts at the arena, including a surcharge on parking. The arena brought in $5.8 million last year to Glendale, approximately $1 million less than the projection.

"I'm all in favor of anything to bring more revenue in but we have to make it work on both sides," Weiers said in the Arizona Republic.

However, ASU senior associate athletic director David Cohen confirmed that ASU will play some games at Gila River Arena next season.

Gila River Arena

Could the home of the Arizona Coyotes be the home of Sun Devil hockey? (Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports)

After Year 2 is finished, Powers said he hopes to see ASU playing in its own facility. The hope is for a 4,000-6,000 seat arena in the East Valley, preferably on campus, Powers said.

That rink size would be standard for a college hockey team. Only 18 programs have an arena with more than 6,000 seats and only eight averaged more than 6,000 tickets sold per night. A smaller, more intimate venue in the future would create a better atmosphere for an ASU hockey game, even if the arena does not sell out.

Anderson agreed with Powers' timeline.

"We have to have a home, varsity-level arena when we go into 2017," Anderson said.

Anderson narrowed it down to three realistic possibilities for ASU's future home rink: No. 1, renovating Wells Fargo Arena, the current multi-sport facility that houses the University's basketball team. No. 2, a new multi-sport arena with a focus on hockey could be built. No. 3, a new, off-campus facility could be created.

The $32 million donation does not cover an arena. That would need to be independently fundraised.

Given the choice, Anderson said he would prefer an on-campus venue, but pointed to other sports that moved off-campus. The ASU baseball team is in its first year at a renovated Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the former spring training home of the Oakland Athletics, after leaving the on-campus Packard Stadium. The golf team is in the midst of its transition from ASU Karsten Golf Course, which is on-campus, to Papago Golf Course, which is not. The sand volleyball team plays off-campus at the PERA Club.

"At the end of the day, you want the facility that will best accommodate you and very frankly, also one that makes the most sense financially and in terms of being able to help you in terms of revenue stream operate at a profit," Anderson said. "So we're going to look at all the options that may be presented to us and come to the best decision."

ASU president Michael Crow told The State Press on April 5 he expects the arena to be off-campus.

The arena will be determined based on how successful ASU is financially, for obvious reasons. ASU averaged 174 fans per game during its ACHA season in 2013. In the four games ASU played against rival Arizona, that number ballooned to approximately 1,000.

Even in a renovated Oceanside, there would not be enough seating room and ticket sales to make a lot of money. Powers estimated that renovations could quadruple the capacity of the arena, but was unclear if that was seating capacity or total capacity. Even when 1,000 people packed in, including standing-room only spots, where people often line up three- or four-deep at the boards just too see the game. Oceanside does not have an official number for seating capacity. There is also no electronic scoreboard at Oceanside, which minimizes revenue potential by not allowing a space for advertising sales.

Then there is the basic fact that ASU does not own Oceanside Ice Arena. ASU gets only a cut of the money, and does not have the ability to sell its own ads on the boards, the ice or anywhere else. If and when ASU gets its own arena, like it has with Sun Devil Stadium and Wells Fargo Arena, more of the money will be funneled to the University, and by extension the hockey program.

The million-dollar question, or more precisely the $32 million question, is how much money.


Spanier said that while football and basketball - the traditional revenue sports - are typically the only sports to make a university money, hockey is a revenue sport at certain schools and that Penn State is on its way to being one of them.

For the 2013 year, Penn State reported a net profit of $1,020,340 for its men's team, according to the office of postsecondary education. The program generated $1.5 million in ticket sales alone, according to

In total, Penn State still turned a profit, but not as much as the money from the men's team might suggest. The women's program operated at loss of $989,369, meaning that the profits from the men's team covered the losses of the women's team, just as the institution had planned.

In total, Penn State reported a net profit between its two programs of $30,971.

The men's team covering the women's team financially is not unique to Penn State. Also in 2013, the University of Minnesota's men's team reported $1,891,632 in profit and its women's team reported a loss of $1,859,202 for a total net program profit of $32,430, almost identical to the numbers reported by Penn State.

Only three women's programs - Dartmouth, Vermont and Yale - reported a profit from their women's team.

Which puts ASU in an intriguing position.

One of the biggest roadblocks for ASU adding Division I hockey was how to make sure a new hockey team would keep the school compliant with Title IX regulations. A women's hockey team seems unlikely, but the school is currently considering adding lacrosse, crew or both as a women's Division I sport.

Of the two, lacrosse is more likely. Similar to Penn State becoming the sixth Big Ten hockey school, ASU would become the sixth Pac-12 lacrosse school, joining Stanford, Oregon, USC, Colorado and California-Berkeley. ASU adding women's lacrosse would not only benefit the institution, but the conference as well, adding legitimacy in another field.

Anderson said crew would be more of a challenge. Paying for boathouses and boats is not cheap, nor is the cost of transporting boats. Because of the size of the boats, they would need to be transported by truck, not plane, to get to events.

ASU does have both women's club lacrosse and rowing teams. One or both of them is expected to be an NCAA sport within "two or three years," Anderson said. They will be financed by part of the $32 million donation made to the hockey program.

Penn State's men's hockey needed to turn a profit in order to sustain the women's team. ASU's team will not have that same burden because of the lack of a women's team altogether. But that doesn't mean ASU isn't hoping to still make a profit off its hockey program.

"There is no one out there that wants this to fail." - Ray Anderson

"If run appropriately, it is, and can be a revenue sport," Anderson said. "Our operation is absolutely to operate this in a manner where it would become a revenue sport. To be able to sustain itself on a year-in, year-out basis, in which case the startup money lasts a lot longer."

That startup money Anderson is referring to is the $32 million donation ASU received to fund its program. Anderson said at the press conference he hopes to see that money be enough to sustain the program for 10-12 years. After that, the University will assume the financial burden. So the University needs to sell tickets to its games to make sure the hockey team does not become a money pit. The University has not offered an estimate of tickets it hopes to sell.

"We have every intention of running it like a business and having it successfully become a revenue sport like other institutions have been able to do," Anderson said.

Like many schools, ASU has two revenue sports: football and basketball. Adding a third would truly be the entrepreneurial step Anderson envisioned. And hoping for hockey to bring the school is money is not an unrealistic thought.

Schools known nationally for their hockey such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Boston University, all turned a profit in 2013 off their men's teams. Even smaller schools like Cornell, Yale, Dartmouth and Vermont all made money, and that obviously correlates to the geography of the schools. The trouble is success on the ice does not necessarily correlate to money in the pocketbook.

Boston College and Michigan are historically two of college hockey's greatest programs and lost money in 2013. So did traditional powerhouses like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State.

As for Spanier's explanation, the money Pegula donated to Penn State covered everything the men's team needed, but money was still needed for the women's team, a team that was not a guarantee to be created. The University looked heavily at adding women's crew or equestrian to satisfy Title IX when the men's team was added.

"In the end, we felt life was going to be simplest - in terms of any challenge going from club to Division I if we made it men's hockey and women's hockey," Spanier said.

Pegula Ice Arena included accommodations for a women's team when it was constructed, such as women's locker rooms and second sheet of ice so the two teams could practice without conflict.


Inside the world of college hockey, ASU was welcomed with open arms. @NCAAIceHockey tweeted out its welcome, and the team was trending on Twitter in both Tempe and Phoenix on the day of the announcement. The team made its way onto the front page of, and was featured in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.

The night of the announcement, SportsCenter reported the news immediately following highlights of that night's Arizona Coyotes-Washington Capitals game, with host John Buccigross, a longtime advocate of college hockey (or as he calls it on Twitter, #cawlidgehawkey), naming ASU his star of the night.

Chris Peters, a former ACHA reporter with Iowa State, started off working the camera in 2005. He worked his way up the ladder from being the play-by-play announcer to the assistant general manager. He now works as an NHL writer for, while also writing about the college game.

On the CBS Eye on Hockey blog, Peters explained how big of impact Penn State had on the college hockey world, and said that ASU's move could be "more significant than Penn State's."

"Now Arizona State adds an entirely new and unexpected element to the shift in college hockey," Peters wrote. "Arizona State's arrival could open doors that seemed impossible to crack."

He is referring the possibility of even more Western expansion, and the possibility of a Pac-12 hockey league in the future. It is something that both Powers and Anderson have alluded to, and hope to see in the future.

Peters can also envision success for the program once it makes the jump.

"It's such a unique situation, which I think is as exciting as it is scary," Peters said. "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."

College Hockey Inc. describes itself as "an advocacy organization established to promote and grow NCAA Division I mens hockey." Its executive director, Mike Snee, was quoted in both Peters' piece as well as The New York Times, an article in which he said "other than the creation of hockey itself, there hasn't been a single event the sport can build off more," in regard to ASU moving to NCAA.

"I think people involved in hockey, everything from the National Hockey League, USA Hockey, NCAA will see the impact that this will have on the sport," Snee said. "What if we have 10 of these?"

Snee mentioned the speed that ASU got everything together would be difficult to replicate. From everything Powers and Anderson have said, the movement started with my article on July 14, and on Nov. 18, just 116 days later, the program made the announcement. Penn State's process was years in the making.

A big part of both schools acquiring the money was that neither schools' funds came from the inside- both were private donations from people passionate about hockey.

Snee and his group are currently exploring California and Illinois, with a focus on Southern California. USC and UCLA both field ACHA Division II teams and see that part of the country as the next step to a Western college hockey league.

"We haven't formally reached out to the Pac-12 yet," Snee said. "We will, but we want to do that in partnership with Arizona State. And Arizona State has indicated that they want to be a catalyst for Pac-12 hockey to become a reality."


Powers' biggest strength is as a recruiter, even when it doesn't come to hockey. In 2008 he opened his own executive recruiting business. His clients are businesses, and they came to him to help him fill holes at their highest levels. His theory was that if he could convince corporate executives to come and go from a business, he could convince a teenager to come play college hockey.

The 2013-14 season was ASU's best recruiting class, bringing in ACHA Rookie of the Year Robert Levin, as well as Ryan Ostertag, Eric Rivard, Sean Murphy, Drew Newmeyer and most of the essential pieces of this year's squad.

"I think with the athletic director at ASU and everything they have going on, I should have every tool necessary to make it to the NHL." - Gage Mackie

For the 2014-15 season, the recruits just kept getting better. Ed McGovern was a player considered by many to be good enough for the NCAA and came close to playing at St. Cloud State before deciding to come to ASU. Connor Schmidt was a fresh face last season, and he has experience playing at Division I Ferris State.

Now that he no longer is recruiting for an ACHA team, it's only gotten easier for the recruiting maven.

"Obviously as an NCAA program, we have exponentially more resources to give to our student-athletes now which makes it more attractive and takes the financial aspect of recruiting out of the picture," Powers said.

Powers explained how as a club program, first he needed to know if a player could afford to come to ASU. Not only could it not offer scholarships, but there was a fee of approximately $2,700 instituted by the team, which is standard for most club teams.

Next season players will not only not have to pay to play, some will even be awarded scholarships to skate for the Sun Devils.

"Now if we want a kid badly enough, we can pay for it," Powers said. "That's the biggest difference is having the resources to go get any kid you want. Any kid."

Powers has already been hot on the recruiting trail. Although anyone affiliated with the team is not allowed to comment on unsigned recruits, high-level players already have announced their commitments to ASU.

Almost immediately after the Division I news went public, David Norris decided to transfer. A sophomore at Division I American International College in Massachusetts, Norris came to ASU to join the new program, but also to play with his brother Liam, a senior and assistant captain for the ACHA squad.

He was immediately eligible to play for the ACHA team, and joined the Sun Devils for the season's second half. Because of NCAA transfer rules, he must sit out next season, which can count as his redshirt year, and rejoin the team in 2016 with junior eligibility.

The recruits also look promising.

Joey Daccord, a prep goalie from Massachusetts, announced in late January he was coming to ASU. He will graduate from Cushing Academy in May, but will play one year of junior hockey in the United States Hockey League before heading to Tempe. He is ranked as the No. 10 North American goalie and No. 2 prep goalie in the country, according to NHL Central Scouting's draft projections.

Gage Mackie is another player who already has appeared on draft boards. Mackie, a prep forward for Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota, is projected to get drafted in the fourth to sixth round of the NHL draft in June. He will play two years of junior hockey, presumably in the USHL, before arriving in 2017.

mackie daccord

ASU has two players – Daccord, left, and Mackie, right – who could be drafted to the NHL before they ever wear the maroon and gold.

NHL's draft system is unique to any other sport in which NHL teams do not draft the player as much as the rights to the player. In football and basketball, a player must declare for the draft before joining that team's organization post-draft. In baseball, if a player gets drafted, he must decide whether to sign and join the organization or continue his schooling.

In hockey, if a player gets drafted, the NHL teams owns his rights and may choose to bring him to the NHL team or send him back to his college or junior team. So in Daccord's and Mackie's case, if they get drafted, the plan is still for them to play junior hockey before playing at ASU, but it is still up to the NHL team when to call them up.

Presumably, their NHL team would like to see what they could do at the college level. In essence, college serves as a minor league system for the top-flight players.

Daccord, Mackie and other professional-caliber players, like Brett Gruber of the British Columbia Hockey League who will be a Sun Devil in 2016, serve as advertisements for the new ASU program. Gruber was a finalist for BCHL Rookie of the Year this season and will return as an MVP candidate next year. Any accomplishment he has carries with it that everyone knows he is committed to ASU.

Someone like Mackie in particular, a player expected to be drafted, doesn't typically go to a new program. Normally it is the Boston Colleges and Minnesotas that get the future pros, but that he bought into the system already will help fuel other players' interest in ASU.

"I think with the athletic director at ASU and everything they have going on, I should have every tool necessary to make it to the NHL," Mackie said.

Mackie might be an anomaly, though. The idea that ASU has a recruiting advantage because of the weather is overly simplistic. ASU offers the opportunity for players to escape the harsh winters of the Midwest and Northeast, but the truly elite players are less concerned with that than going to an established program with a history of advancing players to the next level.

"Any new program is going to have the same recruiting challenges as ASU," Peters said. "The campus, the name recognition and the opportunity for California/Arizona based players to stay closer to home help offset some of the challenges, but for the best players hockey and development will be at the heart of their decision.

"That's something 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."

The immediate recruiting advantage might not come in the form of players, but schools. The day of the announcement, the official Twitter page of Boston College Hockey, @BCHockeyNews tweeted: "BC would like to welcome @ASUD1Hockey to the @NCAAIceHockey family! How bout (sic) a 2-gamer at your place in January '16?"

While far from binding, the fact that Boston College has shown interest, as has Michigan head coach Red Berenson, shows the level of interest big-name schools have in playing ASU. And if ASU can beat a school like Boston College or Michigan, it will open the eyes of recruits that ASU is for real.

Powers has repeatedly said the best thing to happen to ACHA recruiting was beating NCAA Division I Penn State in 2012. Still a club team, it was the first time ASU had ever beaten a Division I team.

That offseason, the recruits poured in, giving him that 2013-14 class that was instrumental in building an ACHA powerhouse. Boston College and Michigan could do the same thing for the ASU varsity team that Penn State did for the ASU club team.


Anderson said the Pac-12 conference has been supportive of ASU being the first school in the conference to add hockey. He also said he hopes ASU's move would "tip the dominoes" for other Pac-12 schools to consider adding hockey.

"There's curiosity, there's also some skepticism from some of the universities that are taking a wait-and-see approach," Anderson said. "Some people are still stunned and a little numb that we were able to actually pull it off.

"I think the Pac-12 conference is very excited and encouraged and will be enthusiastic about doing everything they can to help ASU hockey get off to a strong start."

Anderson said he expects "a number" of ASU games to be aired on the Pac-12 Networks. The conference wants to boost the profiles of one of its schools as well as provide content for itself. As happy as the network is have hockey content from one school, it would almost surely want content from more.

Of the 12 Pac-12 schools, all but Oregon State field a team at some level of the ACHA. ASU, Arizona and Colorado-Boulder all have ACHA Division I teams, the highest level. UCLA, USC, Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Utah and California-Berkeley have Division II teams and Stanford has a Division III team.

"I think there have been a lot of people dreaming of a Pac-12 hockey conference for a long time," Peters said. "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."

As Penn State discovered in the Big Ten, six schools are required to form a hockey conference. A March article in the Minnesota Star Tribune article named UCLA, USC, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona as schools whose "names are being thrown around in college hockey circles." Add those five with ASU and there are the six need a Pac-12 hockey conference.

From a talent standpoint, Arizona and Colorado would be the closest to the NCAA. Both schools are already at the highest non-NCAA level of collegiate hockey and Colorado went to the ACHA tournament this year where it beat the University at Buffalo in the first round before falling to ASU. Arizona made the tournament in 2014.

Geographically, Colorado-Boulder makes the most sense. Colorado College, Air Force and the University of Denver all field Division I teams and Colorado-Boulder has the largest enrollment of all of them, by nearly 8,000 students, according to

Arizona may not want to miss out on something its rival is doing, and already has an arena that is much more suitable for Division I hockey than Oceanside. The Tucson Convention Center, where its ACHA team plays, is considered one of the premier hockey venues in the league.

Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne dispelled any immediate rumors of Arizona looking into hockey, stating on Nov. 20: "Hockey is not on the radar screen for the University of Arizona." Though that was merely two days after ASU's announcement, and things could have changed since then.

But California may be where the next Pac-12 hockey school lies. The Stanley Cup victory of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014 have brought the popularity of hockey in the Golden State to a level it has never been before.

"You'll always see Kings stickers on people's cars, even people I went to high school with that didn't know a thing about hockey," said ASU forward Michael Cummings, a San Bernardino native. "Now they're huge fans."

dustin brown

The Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup championships have skyrocked the sport's popularity in California (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Fifty Division I players last year came from California, a stat of which Powers is well aware. Six players on the 2014-15 Sun Devils opening night roster hailed from there, more than any other state (Arizona had four) or Canadian province (Alberta had five). When the team makes its jump to Division I, California, Arizona and Western Canada will be heavily featured in Powers' recruiting.

"If you have a plan of attack from a recruiting and you stick to that plan, or at least attempt to stick to that plan and execute it, you'll have success," Powers said. "California is a huge priority for us."

The American Hockey League, the NHL's top development league, is moving five of its teams to the West. Next year, AHL games will be played in San Diego, San Jose, Bakersfield, Ontario and Stockton.

The NHL is capitalizing on hockey's renaissance - it's as popular as it has been since Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Kings in 1988 - and it seems like it's only a matter of time until UCLA, USC, Stanford or California-Berkeley do as well.

David Jacobson, a goalie native of Calabasas near Los Angeles, recently became the first Californian to commit to ASU.

"There is no one out there that wants this to fail," Anderson said. "Not a single person. And that's really the way it should be."


In 2015-16, ASU will play a hybrid season, with approximately half of its games against NCAA Division I teams and half will be close to what an ACHA team would play.

While the schedule has not been officially announced, multiple sources are reporting that ASU will play road games against Wisconsin, St. Cloud State and be the home opener for the University of Connecticut. A home game against Yale is expected and ASU is expected to play at least one against Arizona.

In the 2016-17 season, ASU will play a full Division I schedule, but remain independent of a conference. It is in 2017-18 that ASU will need to make a choice to join a hockey conference.

From the beginning, it seemed like there were two choices that geographically made sense for ASU: the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) or Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). As evidenced by their names, they are hockey-only conferences whose members play in other conferences in the other sports.

The NCHC might be the better fit for ASU. It features Colorado College and Denver, the two schools geographically closest to Tempe. The closest non-Colorado school, Nebraska-Omaha, is also an NCHC member. It would also guarantee matchups against traditional powerhouses such as North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth.

The NCHC draws better. The most popular WCHA team in terms of attendance in 2013-14 was Bemidji State, whose 3,562 tickets sold per game ranked 22nd in the NCAA, according to College Hockey News. Six NCHC teams did better than that, including North Dakota, which averaged 11,338 fans, second-best in the country. Colorado College was fourth, Nebraska-Omaha fifth and Minnesota-Duluth sixth.

The NCHC is also considered the better of the two conferences, sending a record six of its eight teams to the 2015 national tournament, with Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota making the Frozen Four. That is a challenge that may appeal to ASU. Prior to the 2013-14 season and while still in the ACHA, ASU became a charter member of the Western Collegiate Hockey League (WCHL), which instantly became one of the most competitive conferences in the nation. It sent four of its members to the national tournament in both 2014 and 2015, featured the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams at the end of the season and has had a member win the national championship in both years of its existence (ASU in 2014, Central Oklahoma in 2015).

So it looked as if ASU would choose between one of the two Western hockey conferences, but a March Minnesota Star Tribune article added another option. It postulated that ASU may also consider joining the one Power Five conference that sponsors hockey at the Division I level, the same one that the last team to make the jump from ACHA to NCAA joined: the Big Ten.

The Big Ten already supports a team outside of its core members - John Hopkins University competes in the conference for men's lacrosse - and might well consider ASU could help boost its own brand.


ASU does not appear content with just hosting Sun Devil hockey games. USA Today reported in February that ASU was in talks with the Arizona Coyotes about submitting a joint bid to host the Frozen Four. Anderson confirmed the reports that afternoon.

"It just makes natural sense, now that ASU is elevated to varsity hockey, in the very near future that we should be vying for a Frozen Four," Anderson said. "And the Coyotes, no question, feel the same way."

The Coyotes also confirmed their interest in hosting the tournament to Craig Morgan of FOX Sports Arizona. He said both ASU and Coyotes officials would be traveling to Boston to attend this season's Frozen Four.

The tournaments are typically held at NHL arenas, as it will be this year when the NCAA takes over the Boston Bruins' TD Garden. It will be played in Tampa, Fla., next season, followed by Chicago in 2017 and Minnesota in 2018. That could leave 2019 or 2020 for the tournament to head to the southwest.

"This is the Valley of great competition and great events," Anderson said. "It's just natural we would go for a Frozen Four."


Will ASU work as an NCAA program and how soon will it be before the Sun Devils are ready to compete?

The southwestern United States has seen Division I hockey in the past. United States International University in San Diego fielded a team from 1979-88 before folding. Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff saw a team from 1981-86 before it too, folded.

Why then will ASU succeed where others have failed?

"We're Arizona State, that's the difference," Powers said. "It's a different landscape now on the West Coast than it was when those two programs launched, but most importantly, we're Arizona State."

Call Powers whatever you want when he said that: arrogant, confident, cocky, defiant.

And it would be arrogant to think ASU will immediately become a college hockey power and contend for a Frozen Four. It took Powers and his staff four years to build a national champion in the ACHA, a far less competitive league.

To capture a national championship in the ACHA, the Sun Devils used and competed against the best college hockey players that for one reason or another, were not in the NCAA. To win a national championship in the NCAA, ASU will need to compete against teams whose rosters are stacked with future NHL stars.

This year alone, Boston University's Jack Eichel is considered a generational star and is expected to be selected in the top two picks in this summer's draft. Boston College's Noah Hanifin and Michigan's Zachary Werenski are projected to go in the top 10.

ASU meanwhile, has two commits (Mackie and Daccord) projected to get drafted at all, and not until the mid-rounds. ASU certainly has building to do, but so did Penn State. Penn State went 13-14-0 in its hybrid year and after an abysmal 8-26-2 debut in the NCAA in 2013-14, turned in a winning record in 2014-15 and just missed the national tournament.

The key to ASU's success will be the man at the helm. A star recruiter, Powers will need to use the institution's status as an attractive college destination to turn it into an attractive college hockey destination. Powers is unproven as an NCAA coach, but it's impossible to doubt the passion he has.

"I had always dreamed of how cool it be for ASU to have a Division I program," Powers said. "And then obviously you take that a step further, to be the coach of that program, it was always a pipe dream. There was never a blueprint for it. That's the honest-to-God answer. There was never a blueprint to take this Division I. It was never the goal for anybody here at all. I set out to establish the premier ACHA program and we did that. And through doing that, gained the support and confidence of everybody that we need it from to go NCAA."

Powers began his playing career in 1995 as a star goalie for the Sun Devils. His career left a sour taste in his mouth - ASU received a postseason sanction for an ineligible player and rival Arizona took its place - and when he came back to coach, he vowed his players' careers would be much more enjoyable than his, from start to finish.

"I could not be happier for Greg Powers," former Penn State coach Joe Battista said. "He's worked awfully hard over the years. I coached against him, both as a player and as a coach. And I see in him, in many respects, a younger version of me. It just took me a lot longer to get it done."

Battista built a power in the ACHA that is slowly working its way into a power in the NCAA.

ASU has some work to do. It might take a while, but the team is confident. Why? Because as coach Greg Powers defiantly said at the press conference in November, this is Arizona State.

sun devil hockey
 (Sun Devil Athletics)