Made possible by a $32 million donation, the ACHA D1 National Champion Arizona St. Sun Devils are moving up to varsity NCAA D1 in 2016-17. Next year will be a transition year, where the Sun Devils will play a combination of ACHA and NCAA clubs. The team went 38-2-0 last year and won its first National Title. Head Coach Greg Powers will lead the club through the transition.
“Head coach Greg Powers has built a powerhouse ice hockey program here in Tempe, and because of his work it was probably a matter not of ‘if’ but ‘when’ Sun Devil Hockey would be ready to compete at the highest level,” ASU Vice President of University Athletics Ray Anderson said. “I am grateful for the generosity shown by our hockey supporters to make this move possible, and I am hopeful that more members of the extended Sun Devils Athletics family will help us grow this program for the future.”
The donation was made possible by many hockey supporters, including Don Mullett, son of former Sun Devil player Chris Mullett.
The announcement comes just a few years after Penn State decided to move to the NCAA Ranks, a move which helped form the Big Ten Hockey Conference, thanks to a $75 million donation by the Pegula family. It also shows the growth of the game in the Southwest.
“When the Coyotes first arrived in the desert there was one or two rinks,” said Don Maloney, Arizona’s general manager since 2007. “Now there are seven or eight in the greater Phoenix area. It goes without saying that you are breeding not only your next wave of fans, but future players.”
There have been recruits and NHL talent coming from Arizona, California, and Texas for a while now. Austin Matthews, who plays for the USNDP Team in Ann Arbor, is considered a top NHL Prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft … some consider him the number one prospect. This will also put the spotlight on the Southwest and the talent that may be there, but has not had the chance to showcase themselves to the NCAA crowd.
It is unknown which conference ASU will play for, either the NCHC or WCHA seems the likely landing spot. NCHC has Colorado College, Denver, and Nebraska-Omaha as the closest teams. The WCHA has Alaska and Alaska Anchorage. The move may also force the Air Force, which is located in Colorado, to move to the conference with ASU.
“This is a game-changing moment for the advancement of college hockey in this country,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “ASU’s recognition and commitment to the game should have a significant positive impact on the continued development of hockey in the Southwestern United States and should lead the way for more schools to add NCAA Division I hockey programs in the future.”
John Buccigros, hockey fan and ESPN Analyst, tweeted that this could be the first domino that leads to the generation of the Pac-12 hockey conference.