Following a sophomore season that can only be described as surprisingly impressive, all things considered, the Arizona State hockey team signed one of the top recruiting classes in the nation for the 2017-18 season.
Before any of them have even set foot on campus, ASU’s inbound recruits are impressing at the junior hockey stage. The Sun Devils will welcome eight new student athletes to the hockey program next season with just one coming by way of transfer.
The recruiting class consists of the following players:
- Right-winger Austin Lemieux, son of Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux, of the Islanders Hockey Club (USPHL Premier).
- Latvian center Filips Buncis of the Johnstown Tomahawks (NAHL).
- Forward Dom Garcia of the Aston Rebels (NAHL).
- Defenseman Patrick Kudla of the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL).
- Forward Johnny Walker of the Chicago Steel (USHL).
- Latvian defenseman Gvido Jansons also of the Aston Rebels (NAHL).
- Defenseman Jacob Wilson of the Sioux City Musketeers (USHL).
- Forward Gage Hough, who is transferring in from UMass-Lowell, who previously played for the Omaha Lancers (USHL).
Johnny Walker, Jacob Wilson battle in OT matchup
Johnny Walker and Jacob Wilson faced off Tuesday night in the fifth and final game of the Clark Cup (the USHL equivalent of the Stanley Cup) where Walker and his team the Chicago Steel emerged victorious following a 2-1 overtime victory.
THE CHICAGO STEEL ARE TIER 1 NATIONAL CHAMPS! FIRST CLARK CUP IN TEAM HISTORY pic.twitter.com/lWbD1iVxmd— USHL (@USHL) May 24, 2017
While Walker had a quiet game five, he tallied 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists) in 41 games during the regular season, including four power-play goals, good for fourth-best on the Steel. He also took 127 shots, the fourth-most on Chicago while playing roughly 16 games less than most of his teammates.
As for the Missouri-born defenseman Wilson, outside of propelling his team to the Clark Cup finals as the captain of the Sioux City Musketeers, he posted 24 points (6 G, 18 A) in 44 games as a defenseman with an impressive +22 rating.
As for the other Sun Devil recruits, although they haven’t quite arrived at the overall result like Johnny Walker and the Chicago Steel, they have been equally as impressive.
Patrick Kudla thrives at USHL level
Patrick Kudla had a phenomenal season playing in the USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints. He notched 38 points (8 G, 30 A), the sixth-most on the team, in 58 games as a defenseman, which was 16 more points than the next highest-scoring defenseman.
Fall signee & @ArizonaCoyotes draft pick @kuddy96 arrives this season from the @fightingsaints. He led the @USHL d-men in goals! #SigningDay pic.twitter.com/NA3I4t180O— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) April 13, 2017
A Guelph, Ontario native, Kudla just completed his first season at the USHL level playing for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League the year before, where he recorded a staggering 66 points in just 50 games. Kudla’s offensive abilities will be welcomed by the Sun Devils whose defensive core accounted for just 62 of the team’s 239 points last season.
Filips Buncis, Gvido Jansons and Dom Garcia perform well at NAHL level
The North American Hockey League also served as host to three future Sun Devils this past season as both Latvian signees Filips Buncis and Gvido Jansons, as well as Las Vegas native Dom Garcia played in the NAHL.
Buncis played for the Johnstown Tomahawks out of Pennsylvania this past season where he recorded 36 points (11 G, 25 A) in 46 games. This was Buncis’s second full season with the Tomahawks and he helped lead them to the NAHL playoffs where they fell at the hands of the New Jersey Titans, 3-0, with two of the games being decided by one goal.
The other two ASU signees playing in the NAHL, Garcia and Jansons, both played for the Aston Rebels this past season. The Rebels lead the NAHL in points in the regular season with 95 in 60 games. Their season ended May 14th when they lost to the Lone Star Brahmas, 3-0, with the final goal being an empty-netter to ice the game.
The 2017 #NAHL #RobertsonCup National Champions, the @LoneStarBrahmas! pic.twitter.com/rSUWeIkyfJ— NAHL (@NAHLHockey) May 14, 2017
Garcia and Jansons earned the second and third-most points on the team respectively with Garcia recording 47 points (14 G, 33 A), and Jansons with one less at 46 (19 G, 27 A).
Garcia wore the captain’s “C” this year for the Rebels in his second season with the team. His +33 rating was good for fourth-best in the NAHL, but only third-best on the team, if that is any indication of how good of a season they had.
The 2016-17 season was also Jansons’ second with Aston, the Latvian put up 20 points (7 G, 13 A) in 47 games with the Rebels last year. Jansons was very productive for the Rebels this season as he led the team in power-play goals with 11 and he averaged the third most points per game on the team with 0.85.
Austin Lemieux brings pedigree, skill and smarts
The only non-USHL/NAHL signee who isn’t a transfer is Austin Lemieux.
Lemieux will have high expectations coming into ASU. He is the son of Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux who has four Stanley Cups—two as a player in 1991 and 1992 and two as an owner in 2009 and 2016.
Not to be mistaken for his father, Austin Lemieux plays right wing whereas his father was a long-time center. Lemieux spent this past season in the US Premier Hockey League with the Islanders Hockey Club where he recorded 74 points (20 G, 54 A) in 45 regular season games on top of nine postseason points (6 G, 3 A) in just six games.
Lemieux’s coaches at Islander Hockey Club have said part of what makes Lemieux so special is his remarkably-high hockey IQ.
Gage Hough transfers in from UMass-Lowell
The eighth and final signee of the 2017-18 recruiting class arrived at ASU by slightly different means than the other seven. Forward Gage Hough (pronounced “Huff”) is a transfer from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
Gage-ing by this, we feel #SunDevilNation is going to be a big fan of Gage Hough! Meet the new #SunDevil forward! #SigningDay pic.twitter.com/O0sXmamViH— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) April 13, 2017
Hough recorded four points in just 11 games with the River Hawks this past season and only appeared in 40 games over the past three seasons at UMass-Lowell. He will bring a lot of leadership and experience to the young Sun Devil hockey team as he is a veteran from not only his time with a top-notch NCAA hockey program, but the USHL as well.
Hough played for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL for two seasons prior to his time at UMass-Lowell, and he certainly made the most of it. The Omaha native racked up 72 points (35 G, 37 A) in 110 games over two seasons with is hometown team, including a 52-point campaign (24 G, 28 A) in his second season with the Lancers where he was an assistant captain as well.
It would suffice to say the Sun Devils have a bright future ahead of them with this crop of young talent headed to Tempe in the fall. Coach Greg Powers and his staff have turned the ASU hockey program from a club hockey dynasty to a NCAA team on the rise in the blink of an eye.
Beyond next year, the Sun Devils also already have plenty of commitments for the 2018-19 class and even some for the recruiting class of 2020-21.