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ASU hockey coach Greg Powers: Joining NCHC is a “monumental day for our program”

Arizona State hockey coach Greg Powers, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson and National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) commissioner Heather Weems discussed ASU joining the NCHC in a press conference this afternoon. 

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How everyone feels about ASU’s addition to the NCHC

Weems said that the board of directors voted unanimously (8-0) on Sunday night to add ASU to the NCHC. She called ASU joining the conference “a milestone moment in the life of the NCHC.”

“I couldn’t be more excited to officially announce the addition of Arizona State University and Sun Devil hockey to the NCHC family. As many of you know, this is the first membership change in the league’s 10 year history. Since its inception, the NCHC has been defined by its members commitment to supporting nationally competitive programs focused on a first class student athlete experience. Over the course of the past seven years since elevating to NCAA Division I hockey, Arizona State has continually raised its standards and demonstrated by word and deed their commitment to the same type of high quality college hockey. with the opening of Mullet Arena last fall, another box was ticked and the conversation between the NCHC and the issue became more serious as we jointly discussed membership opportunities.”

Anderson said that today’s announcement was “very exciting and timely”

“The whole process of getting us to today was done so collaboratively,  so efficiently and with a real true sense of partnership, and that is very, very much appreciated. Know that from the perspective of Arizona State specifically, our primary objective in joining a conference was to assure that we acted in the best interest and welfare of our student athletes, period. And so joining this conference puts our hockey program in the most elite conference in the country in our belief and provides the best fit for our student athletes or university at large in our fans on multiple levels. So, we at ASU are supremely thrilled and honored to become a full member of this dynamic hockey conference.”

Powers, ASU’s head coach of 15 years, said that it was “a monumental day for our program.”

“It’s the right time for Arizona State hockey to join a league, and it sure seems like the right time for the NCHC to expand and include us in their league. And we are so thrilled and honored to be a part of such a prestigious league. It’s the best conference in college hockey, it’s the best single sport conference in all of college athletics. With five of the last seven national championships, it goes without saying.”

The process of ASU joining the NCHC

The road to the unanimous vote has not been easy. ASU first tried to join the NCHC back in 2016, only a year after it made the jump to playing Division I hockey and when they were located in Oceanside arena (capacity of 747 people).

“I think that this has been our desire to be a part of this conference from day one,” Powers said. “Back when we originally applied, the best thing that ever happened was that it didn’t happen. The NCHC, in their defense was just getting started, and they were still getting their house in order. There was really no real reason for them to expand at that time, in their infant stages. And for us, we needed to get our house in order as an independent program that just started a Division I program, almost on a whim.”

After proving their success in winning with two straight 20-win seasons in 2019-20 and what would have been back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances if not for the pandemic, ASU proved that it belonged as a Division I program. The cherry on top was the building of the massive Mullett Arena.

“The thing I’m most proud of here at ASU and really, really grateful to (university president) Dr. Crow is that he said, ‘This is a project (the building of Mullett Arena) that we’re just going to keep moving along, because there’s so many benefits that wait us stepping in, and we’re not going to be sidetracked by any excuse for the pandemic or COVID,” Anderson said.

That wait proved to be effective. Weems started up talks again with ASU last summer when she got lunch with Powers. The talks got really serious when she came out to Tempe to visit the new 5,000-seat arena in December.

“At that point, just with the conversation, with the advancement of the arena, and just seeing what a quality facility it is, and seeing their commitment and the progress that they had made, it just made sense that this was the right time,” Weems said.

The conversations opened up more at the end of the season when they had more time for talking, and it furthered to the point of ASU joining the league.

“I think we’re a destination trip for any team that comes and plays us during the winter to experience a game day environment, like we now provide for our student athletes (and) our opposing teams’ student athletes,” Powers said. “The opportunity to come to a destination city in the middle of the winter is huge.”

Why ASU chose the NCFC

Anderson shared a little detail on why ASU chose the elite conference as their destination, despite having talks with the Big 10 in the past.

“First and foremost, it was what was in the best interest of our student athlete experience what was best for their welfare, and I’m talking about the whole picture. Certainly you want elite competition, you want to make sure we’re in a conference that is academically strong and driven. But we also wanted to make sure that the competition level also played into their scheduling. We’re academics (focused). And so the geography, the proximity, along with those other things just made the most sense for us. And then very frankly, you want a conference that wants you equally badly, positively, and was very honest and transparent about it. So there were so many things about the NCHC that drove us to believe that this was absolutely the right fit for us culturally, competitively. In everything that we’re charged with in terms of promoting the holistic experience of our student athletes, that’s what it came down to.”

Powers said that this move is the final major piece in getting towards that next big step, and he is looking forward to the competitive aspect of being in a conference.

“You’re always in the fight when you’re in a league, and that’s what we’re most excited for. And we’re most excited that our student athletes are going to experience that, and we would not be here, if not for all the players that believed this day could happen and came here and built it without that in mind and had no real plain vision of when that would happen. They came here to help us build a program to get to this day, and we would not be here without any of them.”

Powers on how recruiting will change and how his current players reacted

With ASU suddenly not being an independent team and now being in the most elite conference in college hockey, recruiting is bound to change and Powers spoke on that.

“(Recruiting) is becoming more and more fun every year as we advance, and we grow as a program and become more established with a real facility to play in. Now with a conference home, I think we’re a very attractive program for many players, and we have been already. But like I said, it’s what every student athlete wants, they want to compete for championships. And now no matter what we get to do that every year.”

Powers said that the move could help other independents.

“I hope that it helps them. I hope that it gives their administration and leadership belief that this can happen for them if they just continue to plug away and do things the right way. Because that’s what we believe we’ve done, and that’s why we’re here today. So hopefully, it helps them and gives them hope that the same can happen for them.”

Powers said his players are looking forward to the move and are ready to use this next season as an example.

“The players are excited, obviously, it’s what, it’s what college hockey players want, they want to be able to compete for championships. And this allows us to do that no matter what, so they’re very excited. The message was, ‘Hey, this is our last independent season, and it’s kind of a turning of the leaf so to speak that that this team this year gets to kind of wear that badge of honor and empty the tank and most importantly honor all the guys that came before them that made this day possible.’ And that’s exactly what we plan on doing.”

Other notes

The entry fee is $500,000 over three years, according to Weems.

Arizona State sold over $3 million in ticket sales last year, according to Frank Ferrara, the CFO of Sun Devil Athletics.

The vote was made on Sunday night after a presentation by Anderson and Ferrara, and it needed six out of eight teams (75%) to approve of the move, but the board of directors voted unanimously.

Powers and Anderson are happy that the NCFC let them join as soon as possible (2024-25). They couldn’t join immediately for the 2023-24 season due to there already being a set schedule and other bylaws.

ASU already has six games against NCFC scheduled for 2023-24 season before it moves to the conference full-time on July 1, 2024. Powers said they are already used to playing some of the closer programs in Denver and Colorado College, but it will be nice to get a look into them more with joining the conference in mind. The one new team they will play this year is Miami.

How the new schedule will look (per press release):

“The new schedule model and rotation consists of three, three-team pods based on geography with teams guaranteed to play home and away series against the other two teams in their pod every season (eight games). The three-team pods are: Arizona State, Colorado College and Denver; Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota and St. Cloud State; and Miami, Omaha and Western Michigan.

The remaining 16 conference games will be played against the six ‘non-pod’ teams, with four opponents only being played in one series (eight games), home or away, and two ‘non-pod’ opponents being played in both home and away series (eight games). The ‘non-pod’ teams that are played either once or twice in a series will rotate over three seasons. The complete 2024-25 schedule will be released next spring.

The NCHC’s postseason format with nine teams for the 2024-25 season and beyond is still being evaluated and will be finalized and announced in the coming months.”

Weems said the NCFC is confident with the amount of teams they have moving  forward, even though it comes out to an odd number (nine). She said they will continue to monitor the college hockey landscape as they move forward.

“Arizona State University is recognized nationally for its innovation and academic quality,” Weems said. “It also brings a strong national brand robust alumni base and growing southwest hockey market to the NCHC. I know this edition will make our conference stronger and carry on our League’s tradition of fast paced gritty hockey each night the puck is dropped. I also know our coaches, student athletes, and many alumni and fans are dreaming of the obligatory wink wink trip to the Tempe desert in the cold of winter.”

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Brendan Mau is a college sports insider and general assignment reporter for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on Twitter via @Brendan_Mau

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