The historic State of Hockey is hosting the newest up and coming program this weekend when No. 12 Arizona State takes on Minnesota at Mariucci Arena.
The Golden Gophers will meet ASU for the first time ever in just a few days. It will also be just the third time the Sun Devil program plays in the land of 10,000 lakes. For an ASU team that has been tabbed as an “urban legend,” by their head coach, it’s a chance to showcase themselves in a place of college hockey prestige.
“It’s the State of Hockey and how they treat the sport, I think their development model all the way from the youth ages on up through high school, is one that other states should adopt and copy,” head coach Greg Powers said. “To be able to go up in that environment with the season that we are having, and play a traditional powerhouse like Minnesota...It’s a tremendous honor for our program. We couldn’t be more excited.”
For two Sun Devil freshmen, they will be going back to a state that had a big impact on their hockey development. Defenseman Josh Maniscalco and forward Demetrios Koumontzis both played prep hockey in the area.
Maniscalco played his prep school hockey at Shattuck St. Mary’s in 2014-15 before going on to join the United States Development program and the United States Hockey League (USHL). Now at ASU, the blue-liner has 18 points and he is an astounding +14 out on the ice.
“It’s always nice to go back to a place where you have played before,” Maniscalco said. “I know a lot of people on Minnesota and I have a couple of friends coming to the game so it should be fun. In terms of hockey, it’s definitely going to be a test for us...And I think it’s a test we are ready for.”
As for Koumontzis, the Scottsdale native ventured up North where he played at Edina High School, and later played for the Upper Midwest Elite League Hockey. That is where the fourth round Calgary Flames selection garnered a lot of attention, as he led his team in points in the UMHSEHL and he was named a 2018 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Finalist.
Unlike many other players on ASU’s roster, Koumontzis didn’t go on to play junior hockey. Instead, he came to Tempe where he has delivered 20 points in his freshman campaign. As of late, Koumontzis has been on a tear, as he accounted for five points in two games during the Devils final home games of the year against American International.
“When you make the jump that he did, it’s such a high jump from high school hockey to Division I hockey, especially against the teams that we play,” said Powers of Koumontzis. “We knew we were just going to have to work with him and break some of the high school habits that he still had without the luxury of going and playing a couple years of junior hockey, which everybody else had.
“He didn’t have that, so there are just small, little things to his game...Now he is playing with better detail and habits, and understanding how we want to manage games as we get closer down to the final stages of a game. He is starting to get it. As long as we can continue to engrain those habits, he is going to be big time for us down the stretch.”
Koumontzis will have family and friends in attendance at this weekend’s games.
Above all, the weekend is another opportunity to prove what the program has established thus far. At No. 8 in the Pairwise rankings and No. 12 in the country, the Devils are in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament.
According to a recent College Hockey News PairWise Probability Matrix, ASU was given a 99.9 percent to make the tournament. Needless to say, those odds aren’t too shabby. A win or two in Minnesota couldn’t hurt, and it could all but put a stamp on a ticket to the tourney.
“Just to go out there and beat a team like that would be pretty special for this program,” said Koumontzis of the trip to Minnesota. “Obviously, we get three weeks off before we know if we make the tournament or not, so it would definitely be strong to end with two wins or end on a high note, and just keep working from there.”