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ASU Hockey: Sun Devils, Arizona Coyotes announce partnership

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The Sun Devils are officially set to play four games of their 2015-16 season at Gila River Arena.

Josh Nacion

Just how big of a day was Wednesday for the ASU hockey program?

ASU coach Greg Powers came into the press conference wearing a three-piece suit, while athletic director Ray Anderson, Arizona Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc and the rest of the Coyotes' entourage also donned formal attire.

In a press conference hosted by Coyotes play-by-play announcer Matt McConnell, Powers, Anderson and LeBlanc announced Wednesday ASU and the Coyotes had formally entered into a partnership, which allows the Sun Devils to play several games at Gila River Arena in Glendale, beginning in the 2015-16 season when they will play four.

The Sun Devils will open the season Oct. 3 at Gila River against ACHA rival Arizona. The Coyotes have also agreed to host the inaugural four-team Desert Hockey Classic, which includes ASU, Yale, UConn and Michigan Tech. The Sun Devils' final game of the season will be played on Feb. 28 in an exhibition against the U.S. National 18-U Team.

Both parties expressed hope this will become "a long-term relationship" as Arizona State begins its first season competing as an NCAA Division I program.

"Without the Arizona Coyotes and their very clear commitment to the state of Arizona, I firmly believe we're not here today," Powers said.

The Coyotes were immediately cooperative and offered to share their facility. LeBlanc said the partnership would help the Coyotes tap into ASU's student and alumni bodies and hopefully grow the sport in Arizona.

"When we first heard rumblings of ASU going to Division I, we immediately reached out to Coach [Powers] and through some of the administrative staff, then came our willingness and absolute desire to become part of the program in any way possible," LeBlanc said.

One major issue that remains unsolved is getting ASU fans and students to Gila River Arena. A trip from the ASU Tempe Campus to Glendale can take at least 30 minutes.

"Certainly, the plan is to make it as easily accessible to students," Anderson said. "We know it's somewhat of a journey, so we will be talking about transportation, providing some type of transportation system to our students."

However, Anderson and Powers are aware the ASU West Campus is also in Glendale and near Gila River Arena. Powers said the team will look to gain support from students residing on the smaller campus.

"Over 10,000 students attend that campus," Powers said. "The average attendance of a Division I institution that we play next year is just over 10,000, so our West Campus alone is just as big on an average basis as the opponents we play. Personally from a head coaching standpoint, we're going to discuss internally what we could do to get our West Campus heavily involved in those games."

"The arena isn't quite on Pluto like a lot of people think it is," LeBlanc added with a laugh.

All three said they are already looking into scheduling even tougher Division I opponents at Gila River Arena for the Sun Devils' 2016-17 schedule and could double or triple the amount of games in future seasons. Although neither could comment in detail, both sides promised ASU will play quality matchups in Glendale.

"We want to play the best," Anderson said. "We want to play the big boys. Anytime, anywhere, because our student-athletes and fans deserve that. The hockey out there will be top-tier. It won't be a bunch of cupcakes."