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Make or break: ASU hockey enters defining 8-game stretch

Craig Morgan Avatar
November 29, 2023
If ASU hockey is to qualify for its second NCAA Tournament, it will need better road success.

ASU men’s hockey coach Greg Powers isn’t hiding the reality from his players. While every game is important in the ninth-year program’s quest for its second NCAA Tournament berth, the next eight-game stretch will go a long way toward determining whether the Sun Devils can achieve that goal.

While ASU is off to the program’s best start (10-3-1) on the strength of stingy defense and goaltending, 12 of those 14 games have been played at Mullett Arena in Tempe, four of the wins have come in overtime, and in the only road series of the season, ASU went 0-1-1 at Miami (Ohio), blowing a 4-1, third-period lead and losing in overtime before tying the RedHawks the following night.

“You have to be transparent because the kids all look at the PairWise [rankings] and ask, ‘Why are we No. 20?'” Powers said. “It’s because we only get 65-percent credit for an OT win.  

“The other piece of it is that we’ve got some really good wins, but you get an extra point for winning on the road so you’ve got to make hay and go win on the road. That was the message to the guys. Obviously, we’re really good at home. Now we’ve got to go prove we’re really good on the road.”

That’s where ASU will be for six of its next eight games.

The Sun Devils took off on Wednesday for Colorado Springs, where they will face future NCHC rival Colorado College (7-5), which sits at No. 25 in the current PairWise rankings that largely determine who makes the NCAA Tournament field of 16 teams. 

Following that series, the Sun Devils return home for two games against Dartmouth (No. 28 in PairWise); followed by two games at Robert Morris (No. 63); and then the inaugural Adirondack Classic in Lake Placid, New York where the Sun Devils will stay in a cabin-like resort and tour the Olympic Village. The Adirondack Classic will be played at Herb Brooks Arena, site of the 1980 Winter Olympics where a United States men’s hockey team of amateurs captured the gold medal by defeating the mighty Soviet Union and then Finland in the clinching game. 

“For us as an independent, the more in-season tournaments you can play the better,” Powers said. “It’s a fun experience for our guys that they don’t get to experience in the conference tournaments like other teams do at the end of the season.”

ASU will face Clarkson (No. 32 in PairWise) in the first game of the Adirondack Classic, and then either UMass-Amherst (No. 7) or Cornell (No. 21) in either the championship or the consolation game.

By Powers’ calculations, the Sun Devils can rise from No. 20 in the PairWise to a top-12 ranking with a good showing in this eight-game stretch. On the flip side, if ASU sits in the 14-16 range after this stretch, there is always the chance that it could be bumped out of an NCAA Tournament berth by lower seeded teams making a run through a conference postseason tournament to a title.

A look at the Current PairWise Division I college hockey rankings (Source:

Powers isn’t overly focused on PairWise just yet. Other teams’ fortunes could alter the picture significantly, especially those teams that ASU has already beaten. 

“PairWise will always correct itself,” Powers said. “I think it’s a little bit skewed right now, and not in our favor. Northern Michigan got off to a slow start and now they’re starting to win. 

“As the season progresses and Denver keeps winning and Providence keeps winning and Merrimack keeps winning, which they’re doing now, that’s going to help us.”

Even so, the road has not been kind to the Sun Devils in their recent history. ASU went 4-11 on the road last season. It was 5-11-1 the season before. The entire season was played on the road in 2020-21 due to COVID-19, but even in ASU’s best two seasons as a program, it went 10-8 on the road in the abbreviated 2019-20 season, and 9-9 in 2018-19 when it made the NCAA Tournament field.

As previously noted, it’s difficult to make the NCAA Tournament field as an independent. When ASU accomplished that feat in 2019, it became the first team to do so since Alaska Anchorage in 1992.

ASU captain Tyler Gratton celebrates after scoring a goal against Northern Michigan on Oct. 20 at Mullett Arena. The Sun Devils won that game, 3-2, and swept the series. (Getty Images)

“Every weekend is a defining stretch,” captain Tyler Gratton said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We need to show up and play. We need to win as many games as we possibly can as an independent team if we want to have a really good chance and secure our own destiny at the end of the year.”

When ASU completes this portion of the schedule, it will only have four road games remaining in the season — two each at Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks — while it will play 12 in Tempe, including the Desert Hockey Classic that features Harvard, UMass Lowell and Nebraska Omaha.

Because of the current rankings, here is ASU’s best path to a top-12 PairWise ranking after this eight-game stretch. The Sun Devils will need a split at Colorado College (preferably without an OT win) this weekend. They’ll need to sweep Dartmouth at home, Robert Morris (which sits second-to-last in the PairWise) on the road, and then find a way to win a game at Lake Placid. If they fall short with say a 5-3 record or 4-4, they will find themselves in a precarious position as they enter the new year.

“We are in a good spot right now with the wins we’ve got over teams like Providence and Denver that have a good chance of being in the Frozen Four,” Powers said. “We’re right there. We just need to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Top photo of the Arizona State men’s hockey team via Getty Images

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