In COVID-19 world, ASU hockey settles for no home games, complete Big Ten schedule

Willie Knierim and the Arizona State men’s hockey team will play all their games against Big Ten teams in 2020-21. (File photo by Travis Whittaker/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – Arizona State hockey and the Big Ten Conference announced that they have agreed to a scheduling arrangement for 2020-21. According to ASU, the season could begin as early as Nov. 13.

ASU, an independent hockey team not affiliated with a conference, will play 28 away games, playing each Big Ten team four times. ASU will not play at home in 2020-21.

With many schools preparing to play strictly within their conference due to COVID-19, ASU’s season was uncertain until Tuesday’s announcement.

“With the national trend of athletic conferences transitioning their schedules to conference-only, several of our programs are directly affected and maybe none more than our hockey program as an independent,” said Ray Anderson, vice president for ASU athletics. “We want to thank the Big Ten, commissioner Kevin Warren, and the university presidents and athletic directors for lending a hand and coordinating a scheduling arrangement for this season.”

The agreement does not extend past 2020-21. ASU hockey will also not participate in the Big Ten Hockey Tournament, meaning they cannot earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Even with its drawbacks, ASU coach Greg Powers said this arrangement was the best offer on the table.

“We believe this was the best option presented to us to give our players a meaningful season,” Powers said. “We were just focused on getting as competitive of a schedule that we could possibly get, that gives us a chance to showcase what we think is going to be our best team yet.”

The teams ASU will face are Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame (which is in the Big Ten for hockey).

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ASU will adhere to the same testing protocols as the Big Ten teams, laid out in September by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force.

“The 2020-21 hockey season builds on the rich traditions of Big Ten hockey and brings new competitive opportunities to the Conference with the Arizona State University scheduling agreement,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said. “As our teams return to competition, we will continue to keep the health and safety of our student-athletes at the forefront of our decisions.”

This arrangement does not make ASU a Big Ten member, but it certainly improves the school’s ties with the conference moving forward.

“Every Big Ten team has agreed that they will come back and play us,” Powers said. “That’s big for us, knowing that we’re moving into a new arena, to have those brand names coming back to play in Tempe is a big deal for our program.”

ASU plans to build a new multi-sport arena in Tempe, which would house the hockey team among other programs. Powers said the team plans on inhabiting that arena by Fall 2022, and hinted at an announcement coming soon.

“The arena’s moving forward … there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes,” Powers said. “Obviously navigating through those waters through a pandemic has been challenging, but we’re still confident that it’s on pace. We expect some exciting news over the course of the next month or so.”

Even though ASU will not be counted in the Big Ten’s standings, Powers made it clear that ASU will be competitive.

“You could make the case that it’s the premier conference in college hockey. Every team is really good,” Powers said. “There’s no layups. There’s no gimmes. You better be ready to play every weekend. I think that’s going to be an exciting challenge for us.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Ethan Greni is a transfer student from California who expects to graduate in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Greni is a digital reporter covering hockey for Cronkite News.