Perhaps the best place to cool off in 100-degree Arizona temperatures in July is at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.
That venue is also where the ASU hockey team has been hard at work this past week as the group gears up for a trip to China to take on international competition in Beijing in just a week.
The trip won’t just be a summer vacation, either. There are battles to be fought, and points to be proven when the Sun Devils play four games over the span of a week against professional competition.
The Sun Devils met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the trip overseas, as well as how the offseason is going for a team that is looking to build off last year’s NCAA Tournament berth.
Here were a few notes from the festivities:
Similar to how there is a quarterback competition on the gridiron at ASU, there is another battle brewing between the pipes just down the road at Oceanside.
After the ascension of Joey Daccord into the professional ranks, there is an opening in net that is being fought for between sophomore Evan DeBrouwer, freshman Justin Robbins, and Boston University graduate transfer Max Prawdzik.
All three netminders have a shot to grab the reigns as the No. 1 man, and head coach Greg Powers noted that he isn’t looking to split time. Thus, bring forth the friendly competition.
“All three (goalies) look good and all three can play. They are all going to play over in China,” Powers said. “The goalie that we feel can help us win the most is going to play. We think we can win with all three. I don’t anticipate this being a goaltender by committee season at all. Somebody takes the net and wins it, they are going to get it.”
No Rust, No Problem
The last time ASU played a game was on March 30. Since that time, there has been a long layover since the Devils took the ice. According to Powers, that hasn’t been an issue.
He emphasized that the 2019-20 unit is already ahead of schedule in regards to scraping off rust.
“They look really good. The pace is great, and any first week of practice, there is going to be some excitement and energy and we definitely have that,” Powers said. “The execution is actually way better than we anticipated. All the new guys look great and we are really excited.”
Among two of the new players this upcoming season, Powers mentioned that older players who are coming into their first season as Sun Devils are ready to make immediate impacts. Two of those guys include junior forwards James Sanchez and William Knierim, who already have Division I experience under their belts.
Knierim formerly played at Miami (Ohio) while Sanchez comes to Tempe after a stint in Ann Arbor with Michigan.
With the team’s upcoming trip to Beijing, ASU will become the first NCAA hockey team to visit the city.
While in the country, the Sun Devils will take on professional teams such as Kunlun Red Star, of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), and Yermak Angarsk, Org Beijing, and Tsen Tou Jilin City of the Supreme Hockey League (VHL).
The Sun Devils will compete with the teams as part of a tournament named the Renaissance Cup.
And if you are wondering, ‘Why China?’, there’s a reason for that, too. Powers elaborated on the fact that ASU has involvement in the nation, and they wanted to expand upon that. Other destinations that were included as options were Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. The trip will also serve as a reward for the senior class who has put in four years of effort to mold the program into what it is today.
ASU plans on spending a week focused on games against professional teams in addition to making time for sightseeing activities such as visiting the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square.
The hope is to generate preseason team chemistry before a puck is even dropped for the regular season. The long flight to a different continent is also special for redshirt freshman forward Peter Zhong, who is a native of Beijing. He is one of three Chinese natives in NCAA hockey. Aozhong Ice Sports, where ASU will play its games in Beijing, is 10 minutes from Zhong’s childhood home.
The Chinese native who redshirted in 2018-19 is going to make his debut in his home country.
“I am very excited. It’s been a year without me playing so getting the opportunity to play in the first place, it’s really exciting for me,” Zhong said. “Having the opportunity to play in front of my family, that makes it even a little more exciting.”
Every player is making the trip abroad, with the lone exception being sophomore forward Demetrios Koumontzis, who will be at the World Junior Summer Showcase for Team USA.
Listen to the Captain
Along with the above headlines, Powers and his veteran leaders feel this is perhaps the program’s strongest team yet.
“I think we have a pretty good grasp on what we have, and we think this is our most complete team,” Powers said. “So far, they’ve shown it. There’s not many holes...Obviously, we are biased but we think the new guys complement what we have added.”
Powers’ senior leader who dons the “C” on his pitchfork sweater had even more lofty expectations than his coach. On a list of boxes to cross off through four years, defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk only has one more check mark left.
“We have a board in our room that has all our goals, and my goal is to fill that whole thing out by the time I graduate here. In order to do that, we need to win a national championship,” Pasichnuk said. “That’s our goal this year. We want to go to the Frozen Four and we want to win the Frozen Four, not just be a team that makes the tournament.”
After a sweep against Michigan State last year, Pasichnuk had a memorable quote after the Devils’ second game against the Spartans. He recalled a time when people would question why he chose a place like ASU to play hockey. With a smirk, he stated: “It’s funny how no one is asking me that now.”
"People would always ask me when I first committed here my first two years, 'Why did you go there?'...Well, it's funny that no one is asking me that now."— Andrew Bell (@AndrewBell7) November 11, 2018
Great quote from Brinson Pasichnuk on the growth of @SunDevilHockey following tonight's 2-0 win over MSU. Full quote below: pic.twitter.com/Do5NxZAhr0
As the story unfolded, ASU ended up making the tournament and history in the process. People thought he might have been crazy then, but if he has proven one thing, it’s that he can back up his sentiments. Therefore, the captain has set the standard.
“My goal coming into ASU was to win a national championship,” Pasichnuk said. “It started by building that culture, and we have that culture down now. Now it’s time to take it all.”