ASU hockey looks to show improvement in first full NCAA season

Oct 3, 2016, 10:37 PM

Jordan Masters (17) shoots on goal during Arizona State’s 2015-16 opener against the University o...

Jordan Masters (17) shoots on goal during Arizona State’s 2015-16 opener against the University of Arizona. (Photo by Zuriel Loving/Cronkite News)

(Photo by Zuriel Loving/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – Arizona State was expected to struggle last season, its first as an NCAA hockey program. And the Sun Devils did, winning only five games against NCAA teams.

But with a year of experience and an influx of new talent, the Sun Devils hope to improve despite a far more difficult schedule in their second season in Division I.

“Last year was a trial year in every way: figuring out what worked, how we wanted to play and how we wanted to coach and communicate,” said ASU coach Greg Powers. “We learned a lot through a kind of trial by fire last year.”

The Sun Devils played a combination of NCAA teams, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) teams and American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) club teams in their first season.

In 2016-17, the team will play a full slate of NCAA opponents, beginning Oct. 7-8 with a pair of games against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

The Sun Devils went 5-22-2 last season against NCAA competition, while going 5-0-0 against the ACHA and 0-0-2 against CIS teams.

“We had some ups and downs against the NCAA competition,” Powers said. “We got a few big wins but, for the most part, we just didn’t have the depth and the experience to get through an entire season.”

The Sun Devils hope to improve with the addition of some new faces. The roster includes 13 players who weren’t on the team last year, including five players who are eligible after redshirting last year and Robbie Baillargeon, a graduate transfer student from Boston University whose 12 points at BU last season would have ranked third on the Sun Devils.

“I think we’re a lot better,” said sophomore forward Jordan Masters, who led the team with 22 points last season. “We’re a lot deeper, and the freshmen that we have coming in are all really good. I think it’s going to be cool to watch this year how we pair up with everyone else.”

Senior forward Ryan Belonger believes that the year of experience in the NCAA last year will aid the team this year.

“We had a lot of freshmen that are sophomores now,” Belonger said. “This year we’re going to be a lot more prepared. Those kinds of guys know what to expect.”

The roster isn’t all that has changed. Powers implemented simulated live game action into the team’s practice routine this preseason.

“Live action and scrimmaging with each other kind of gives us a game scenario feel, even in practices, and helps with the conditioning and stuff like that,” Belonger said.

The fact that ASU hockey was outscored by 70 goals by NCAA teams last year despite outscoring ACHA opponents by 32 goals speaks volumes about the step up in competition the team is facing.

“You’re playing against potential NHL players,” Powers said. “A third of the NHL is now made up of players that played college hockey, so it’s a much higher level. It’s faster and the players are just better. It’s great hockey.”

What’s more, the Sun Devils will face eight of the 16 teams that competed in the NCAA Tournament, including two teams that advanced to the Frozen Four.

“If you look at our schedule this year, we’re playing the top teams again and I think that helps, because if you want to be the best, you have to play the best,” Masters said.

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