With a loss on Saturday night in the NCAA Midwest Regional, Arizona State put the finishing touches on its 2018-19 season.
The end of a season is always considered tough, but for the Sun Devils, there was no reason to hang their heads. They were among the top-16 schools in all of college hockey, and one message was made clear throughout the Sun Devil locker room. The message was that this isn’t the end. Only greater things are to come.
“Anyone that says we didn’t belong here or we didn’t deserve to be here, they are wrong and they couldn’t be more wrong,” said head coach Greg Powers after ASU’s loss to Quinnipiac on Saturday. “The takeaway is that we all know we are going to be back and it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
ASU started its season winning four of their first six games. However, where the team identified its sudden potential was in the two losses out of those first six contests. ASU was swept at home against then No. 1 Ohio State. They might have lost but both games were tight throughout.
All of a sudden, the realization became more clear. The team could compete with anybody. From there, the wins piled up. Powers noted earlier this year that a pursuable goal for this year’s team would be to exceed 16 or 17 wins, finishing at or around the .500 marker in just the third full year at the Division I level.
The team went above and beyond that. Series sweeps occurred on the road at Alabama-Huntsville, Princeton, and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). At Oceanside Ice Arena, ASU took full advantage of their tight confines.
They did not lose another game at home after being swept by Ohio State. They recorded sweeps against Michigan State, Boston College, American International, Nebraska Omaha, Colorado College and Alaska Fairbanks.
The group also had overtime heroics, registering four game-winning overtime goals and a shootout victory against then No. 3 Minnesota State. Three of the four OT winners were on the road, including an emphatic early season breakaway goal from sophomore forward Johnny Walker at then No. 6 Penn State.
“This program and everyone on this team is just going to grow every day and week by week,” said Walker after ASU’s loss on Saturday. “That’s how you gain some of that experience and move forward.”
Speaking of Walker, his presence can’t be understated. He averaged the most goals per game in the country and was named one of two Sun Devils on the Hobey Baker watch lists. His most notable performance came on October 27 against Nebraska Omaha when he scored four goals in one game.
Along with Walker, his fellow Hobey Baker candidate was junior goaltender Joey Daccord. Daccord started every game in net and he made over 1,000 saves. He ended the season with a .926 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average.
The netminder could have possibly played his final game in a Sun Devil uniform against Quinnipiac on Saturday night. With a chance for the Ottawa Senators draft pick to join the NHL, he will have a decision to make in the near future. Regardless, his impact at ASU will be felt for years to come. He helped garner national attention.
“I think Joey Daccord is probably one of the top-three goalies in the country,” said longtime Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold.
Daccord shared his own thoughts on the season once things wrapped up Saturday.
“This was our goal from day one and I remember when Coach Powers called me. He was like, ‘We are not just going to start a program just to be an average team. We want to be one of the best teams in the country and we want to be in the NCAA Tournament every year,’” Daccord recalled. “To be on the first team...When you look at the big picture, to be the first team to ever play in the tournament from Arizona State, it’s truly incredible.”
This past season was the most special team and year I’ve ever been apart of. Thank you to the seniors for their incredible guidance and leadership. What we accomplished this year can never be taken away from us. #ForksUp @SunDevilHockey pic.twitter.com/sZBPZAflTn— Joey Daccord (@JDac35) March 31, 2019
Aside from Daccord and Walker, there were many layers on this year’s team. Between freshmen and seniors alike, everyone brought something to the table.
ASU’s freshmen class recorded 89 points and was among the top-producing freshmen groups in the country. Demetrios Koumontzis, Jordan Sandhu, PJ Marrocco, Austin Lemieux and Josh Maniscalco all had double-digit point totals as first year players.
Then there were the seniors - the team’s five “founding fathers.” On their senior night against American International, all five guys started the opening face-off together. Dylan Hollman, Anthony Croston, Jake Clifford, Jakob Stridsberg, and Jack Rowe will all leave the program better than when they found it.
“I have thought a lot lately about how hockey kind of teaches you about life,” Hollman said. “For us to be here and watch it (the program) grow and for our team to be successful now, it feels so much better and we are able to enjoy it so much more.”
Hollman, who transferred to ASU after playing his freshman year at Umass-Lowell, was relentless on this year’s penalty kill alongside Croston. Powers often mentioned those two seniors were two guys who embodied what it meant to be a Sun Devil hockey player. Teammates could attest as well.
“When you have five seniors like them, if you can be half the contributor that they were, you can look back at yourself and know that you had a very impactful and successful college career just like these guys did. I am going to miss them so much,” said junior captain Brinson Pasichnuk.
The two seniors earned plenty of respect. Walker shared his impressions of what Hollman in particular meant to him.
“Dylan Hollman was probably my biggest role model. He was kind of a guy who I budded heads with when I first got here. He was a real straight arrow and it was one way. I struggled with that and then I kind of learned to adapt to what he is doing because he is one of the very few young men that I have ever met that truly cares about people around them,” Walker said. “He’s such a genuine person, that he wants nothing but the best for every single person in that locker room. He’d sacrifice anything for anyone of his brothers.”
Along with the seniors, the fourth line of Clifford, sophomore Dom Garcia, and senior Steen Pasichnuk helped provide consistent physical play.
Between Hobey Baker nominees, a promising freshmen class, and veteran leaders, the ingredients of this year’s team mixed together to create something special.
ASU was the first independent program in 27 years to make the NCAA Tournament. With a competitive team now in the works, and a new arena in the near future, more talks swirled around the college hockey world about ASU joining a conference somewhere down the line.
“They’ve taken incredible strides,” said legendary Boston College head coach Jerry York after facing ASU earlier this year. “We are always trying to grow college hockey, at least we should be, and once that new rink is built, certainly as a Hockey East member, we have to be looking at ASU as a possible bid for us...What’s not to like about a major, power-five team with hockey? I think more power-five teams that get involved, the better for all of us.”
Powers’ mantra at ASU is “Be the Tradition.” That saying could change in the coming years, and that’s solely because there is really no need to “Be the Tradition” any longer. The tradition is here. It’s established, and it was showcased this season.
The common question of, ‘Arizona State has a hockey team?’ should vanish after what this year’s Sun Devil team established. Yes, there’s a hockey team in Tempe, and it’s rapidly arising.
“I’d just sum up the year as one huge family that came together early on and knew that we could do something special,” Brinson Pasichnuk said. “It’s just another big step in the program and showing that Sun Devil hockey is no joke. It’s actually the opposite. It’s here, and it’s threatening to be the best program in the country very soon.”