The countdown clock is ticking for game one against Mercyhurst. College hockey in Tempe is gearing up for year five at the NCAA Division I level, and this season, the expectations are higher than ever.
ASU returns 19 players from last year’s first-ever NCAA Tournament run, and it has added 10 new players who will don the pitchfork on their sweaters.
Among the storylines heading into year five is a goaltending battle, and competition at every position on the ice. With loftier goals, the path to take the next step is in the mind of every player.
“We truly and genuinely believe that this is even a better hockey team than we had last year,” said head coach Greg Powers. “Defensively, we should be a lot better. Our d-core is incredibly deep, and it’s going to be a battle to get into the lineup every night.”
One of the biggest question marks on a deep roster is who ASU’s starting goaltender is going to be. After losing former netminder Joey Daccord to the Ottawa Senators, graduate transfer Max Prawdzik, sophomore Evan DeBrouwer, and freshman Justin Robbins are battling for the No. 1 spot.
On ASU’s China trip over the summer, Prawdzik and Robbins both started two games, and DeBrouwer had an unfortunate occurrence as to why he wasn’t on the trip. His puppy ate his passport the night before his flight (Yes, you read that right). Nevertheless, all three goaltenders have a shot to grab the reigns, and they are working alongside volunteer goaltending coach Eddie Lack.
“We are telling all of our goalies, ‘Be you. Don’t be Joey.’ We aren’t looking for another Joey and there is no other Joey. Be yourself. That’s why you are here,” said Powers. “The Joey Daccord era is done and it’s gone, it’s over. Now we are all cheering for him as an Ottawa Senator...But these three guys can carry the mail. We are very confident in that.”
Regardless of who the man is between the pipes, he will have help in front of him with a deep defense core. The group features senior defenseman and captain Brinson Pasichnuk, who elected to return for his senior season instead of playing professionally.
And, Captain Brinson Pasichnuk speaks on the chemistry of this year’s team:— Andrew Bell (@AndrewBell7) September 17, 2019
“This is truly a family and everyone that comes here should know that...I guarantee you that we are the closest team in college hockey.” pic.twitter.com/ta7bFCQz2n
This offseason, he was present at an NHL Development Camp with the San Jose Sharks, he traveled to China for the Sun Devils’ voyage in the Fu Xing Cup, and he got married to former ASU volleyball player Halle Johnson.
Now that he’s back to school, there’s only one thing on his mind: Bringing a National Championship to Tempe.
“I think it all starts with our upperclassmen and our work ethic every single day,” said Pasichnuk about trying to build upon success from last season. “You come here to win a National Championship, and that’s what we are striving for this year. I think with everyone’s work ethic on that team, we are well on our way to taking the right steps to get there.”
Pasichnuk joins sophomore Josh Maniscalco, junior Gvido Jansons, junior Jacob Wilson, junior Max Balinson, sophomore Jarrod Gourley and sophomore Connor Stuart as returning defensemen. Wilson is an alternate captain as well, but he is not going not be suited up in ASU’s first game. He has to serve the second game of a two-game suspension dating back to last March when he had an open-ice hit in the final game of the season against Minnesota.
Maniscalco, Jansons, Wilson, and Gourley were all regulars on the blue line last year, and Balinson and Stuart both came in for stints of playing time as well. Add Judson and Semik to the mix, and the Sun Devils could see all nine of their d-men vouching for six spots on the ice.
Up front, the team returns its entire offensive nucleus. The nation’s leading goal-scorer and Hobey Baker nominee Johnny Walker is back, and other offensive weapons such as Demetrios Koumontzis and Brett Gruber are back as well.
Furthermore, sophomore Canadian forwards PJ Marrocco and Jordan Sandhu return coming off freshmen campaigns with double-digit goal totals.
ASU also added another instant playmaker with freshman forward Logan Jenuwine, who lit the North American Hockey League (NAHL) on fire last season. Jenuwine registered 60 goals and 80 points in 59 games. Despite the high totals, Powers believes that his newest weapon has an even higher ceiling.
“He’s here because he can score. What I can say about Logan is he looks exponentially better today than when he got here,” Powers said. “ In the month and a half and two months that he has been here, his body has changed. He looks faster, more explosive, and more confident. He’s moving the puck harder. He’s always been able to score. He scored two big goals for us in China and he played in four games. He’s a kid that’s going to get opportunities right away.”
Along with Jenuwine, junior forwards James Sanchez and William Knierim joined the program as transfers. Knierim comes from Miami (Ohio), and Sanchez from Michigan. They are both eligible to play right away.
Junior forward Chris Grando, however, is not. He transferred from Boston College and won’t take the ice until next year. He will practice with the team throughout the season.
The team has lost Daccord, and forwards Jake Clifford, Anthony Croston, Jack Rowe, and Dylan Hollman. Regardless, those holes have been supplemented with high-end skill that joins the 2019-20 campaign. ASU has depth, and the chemistry is already developed. Puck drop is this Saturday.
“This team, it’s something more than just a team. I’ve said it over and over again the last few years. This is truly a family and everyone that comes here should know that,” Pasichnuk said. “They should feel that way every single day when they come to the rink. And away from the rink, we are constantly all just together. I guarantee you we are the closest team in college hockey without a doubt. I think you saw how that was last year with our success, and how it’s going to be this year too.”