Big Ten, here we come: ASU hockey team opens season at Michigan

Arizona State coach Greg Powers (right) said the message he is sending to his hockey team this season is “let’s just enjoy being able to play.” (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

TEMPE – We’ll never know what might have been for the 2020 Arizona State men’s hockey team.

Ranked No. 13 on March 4, the Sun Devils, with a 22-11-3 record and seven wins in their last nine games, looked poised to make their second straight NCAA Tournament.

That changed a week later, when the NCAA canceled the tournament due to COVID-19.

After last season’s premature ending, the team is confident it can pick up where it left off, along with being grateful to be back playing hockey.

“It’s a much different sense of enthusiasm,” coach Greg Powers said. “The main message that we have really tried to drill home is, let’s just enjoy being able to play.”

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For now, the team is enjoying just being around the rink again, but it’s also focused on the task ahead. ASU, ranked No. 15, opens the season with two games at No. 12 Michigan this weekend.

“They’re going to be a handful, it’s going to be fun,” Powers said. “Just a ton of talent, and we’re excited to play them.”

As an independent program, ASU’s 2020-21 season was in doubt as most conferences announced their members would only be playing against other teams within their conference. In October, the school reached a scheduling agreement with the Big Ten, allowing ASU to compete against the other teams in that conference. All games will be on the road for the Sun Devils.

“There was so much uncertainty going into this school year,” senior forward Johnny Walker said. “Now that we finally have something concrete, and a season, we’re excited and extremely grateful the Big Ten allowed us to join and be a part of that great conference.”

ASU hasn’t played Michigan since February 2018, but this series will be personal for forward James Sanchez. The senior played for the Wolverines from 2016-2018.

“It’ll be cool to go in and go play there again,” Sanchez said. “I’m excited, not really thinking too much of it, just another game, but it’ll be fun to go in there and get two wins.”

ASU has many familiar faces returning this season, but there will be some new ones as well. One of the most anticipated newcomers is senior forward Sean Dhooghe, who transferred this offseason from Wisconsin. Dhooghe is listed at just 5-foot-3, but plays above his stature, recording 56 points in 102 games with the Badgers.

“He’s actually taller in person, so don’t believe all the hype about his size, he plays big,” Walker said. “Really smart heads-up hockey player that can score too, I’ve never seen someone with a 50-flex stick shoot so hard.”

Sunday’s game can be seen on Big Ten Network at 5 p.m., or heard on ESPNU on SiriusXM radio.

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.