TEMPE – A smile spread across Ty Murchison’s face as he walked through the doors of Oceanside Ice Arena for the first time.
He got a taste of what will soon be home.
“I can get used to being in the sun again,” Murchison said.
Murchison, a Corona, California native, is the second full-time player from the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) to commit to Arizona State’s Division I men’s hockey program. Josh Maniscalco, who signed an entry-level deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins last August, was the first.
Murchison and the U.S. NTDP U-18 team squared off against ASU in a pair of exhibition games last Thursday and Friday in Tempe. And even with capacity limited by the intimate confines of Oceanside Ice Arena and COVID-19 restrictions, Murchison could feel a distinct buzz within the walls of the 47-year-old venue.
“It was an unreal experience,” Murchison said. “It was a little weird going up against the guys that are going to be my future teammates for the next couple years. Not a lot of guys get to play their future teams, so it was definitely cool that I got to play against them, see how they play, see the rink and get a feel for all of it.”
The 18-year-old defenseman registered a shot on goal and a plus-one rating in a 6-3 victory and a 2-1 loss to the Sun Devils.
Murchison didn’t factor into the scoresheet, but he left a few impressions while fending off incoming forecheckers and boxing out forwards in the blue paint.
“I was just smiling every time I was going against some of the guys that I’ve been talking to, like Matthew Kopperud,” Murchison said. “Whenever we would be going at it in front of the net, he would be tripping me, and I would just be laughing at him because that’s going to be one of my good buddies for the next few years.”
Dan Muse, coach of the development team, saw Murchison’s overall game elevated with the added motivation of competing against ASU.
“I thought Ty did a great job,” Muse said. “He defended well. He was moving the puck. He had his spots there to jump up. He was smart in joining the rush and getting back quickly on pucks.”
Muse was able to watch in person, but ASU coach Greg Powers couldn’t take up his preferred position behind the Sun Devils’ bench because his wife, Jessica, and his two kids, Isabel and Jakob, had tested positive for COVID-19.
While Powers did not test positive for the virus following a series of tests, out of an abundance of caution he remained quarantined in a part of his house and set up a stream to watch from his couch. The virtual view offered Powers an opportunity to take a closer look at Murchison, if not from as close as he would have liked.
“I wish I could have seen it live,” Powers told reporters from his home after Friday’s win. “He’s ready to contribute at a very high level at the Division I level. I think he proved that this week. He played with some grit and some moxie that is going to be a welcome addition.”
Murchison’s parents, sister and friends were among the few hundred fans allowed to attend, and the contingent from Corona cheered him on in his first two games at Oceanside Ice Arena – the fruit of a greatly-appreciated recruitment process.
ASU first came into contact with Murchison when he was 14 years old.
Unlike his annual recruiting trips to the northeastern parts of the country, assistant coach Mike Field settled on a detour to the Golden State to check on junior programs there.
Field took note of Murchison’s growth when he helped carry the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 14U AAA team to the USA Hockey National Championships with 12 goals and 30 points in 52 games.
Murchison gradually rounded out his defensive stature, taking more reps in the weight room and at practices to build up his strength and stamina.
The ASU staff could see the attention to detail in Murchison’s work ethic, and a close relationship blossomed.
“They always kept in touch and never rushed me,” Murchison said. “They were really good about the process. For me, with the college decision, it came down to what felt right and what connection I had with coaches. Throughout the years, I always had a really good connection with Field.”
And the upward trajectory of ASU’s program caught Murchison’s eye.
“We painted a picture early on when we spoke to him back when he was still playing in LA of where we were going to go and what we intended to do with our program,” Powers said. “We held up our end of the bargain, and he saw that.”
Before Field approached him, Murchison initially discovered ASU’s newly-minted program in 2016.
Murchison was on an October road trip with the Jr. Kings for a 13U AAA tournament in South Bend, Indiana.
That same week, ASU embarked on its first full Div. I campaign, beginning with a season-opening series against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Compton Family Ice Arena.
“Cool, a new program,” Murchison remembers thinking as he took in the experience from the prestigious college hockey landmark.
Little did Murchison know that ASU would call his name a year later. That connection picked up steam over the course of the next four years with ASU clinching its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and Murchison graduating to the U.S. NTDP.
“They have taken unreal steps,” Murchison said. “It’s ridiculous how quickly they’ve developed into a top-tiered team in college hockey. It’s funny seeing on Twitter when they win, people are like, ‘I didn’t know Arizona State had a Division I team,’ and they’re beating Wisconsin and all of these Big Ten teams. I like the fact that people still see them as an underdog. I see it as an opportunity.”
On Dec. 29, Murchison officially announced his commitment to Arizona State on Twitter – a moment he’ll never forget.
Proud to announce my commitment to play Division 1 hockey at Arizona State University. Thank you to my friends, coaches, teammates, and especially my family for supporting me along the way. #ForksUp 🔱 @SunDevilHockey pic.twitter.com/4fikMFutD6
— Ty Murchison (@TyMurchison) December 29, 2020
“Being a West Coast kid, I knew this was going to be the closest thing that I’m going to get to a hometown college hockey team,” Murchison said. “Right when we were making the decision, I was like, ‘It feels like home to me.’ I want to be somewhere where I feel comfortable and where it feels right. It was such a special moment for me and my family.”
Murchison, who is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, was recognized by NHL Central Scouting on its preliminary Players to Watch list in October. The 6-foot-2 left-shot defenseman has five goals and 10 points in 29 games this season.
Murchison’s mobile skating and puck-moving ability in all three zones highlight the many strong suits of his two-way game.
“He plays hard,” Muse said. “He makes sure he finishes his checks. He takes away time and space. He’s hard around the net front. When he does jump up in the offensive-zone play, you can really see that skill set pop up. He’s made strong contributions for the group at both ends of the ice.”
The U.S. NTDP, which Powers described as “hockey Disneyland,” brings in the best American junior hockey players each year.
“I think it speaks volumes to the recruiting efforts that we have and that our staff has put in place,” Powers said. “There was a day not very long ago where it was a pipe dream to look at the lineup card with the National Development Program and hope that one day we could have a pitchfork next to one of those kid’s names.”
Murchison is a prime example of the surge in young, talented hockey players blossoming from in the West. In both games, the U-18 team featured three players from California in Murchison, Andre Gasseau and Aidan Hreschuk.
Muse isn’t surprised by the makeup of his roster.
“The tide is changing,” Muse said. “You have these players coming from all over the U.S. now. If you go back 20 years, it’s mostly Minnesota, Massachusetts, Illinois; your regulars. Now, it’s the Californias and the Arizonas. They’re doing a great job in their youth hockey in how they produce players.”
Powers has noticed the improved West Coast talent, placing an emphasis during his pitches to players on the attractions of playing close to home and shaping a program on the rise.
“California has always been on our radar to make a huge priority,” Powers said. “There are so many good players coming out of that state and I think the more we continue to legitimize our program with a (new) building and going into a conference, and all the good things we have going on, I would expect more West Coast kids to stay home.”
For Murchison, the appeal of playing hockey close to Corona was fine and dandy. However, the vision that Powers instilled with the program’s signature “Be The Tradition” mantra struck a deeper chord.
“Every other college has their legacy built up,” Murchison said. “I’m trying to come in and help the Sun Devils start that legacy and start being known as a championship team and winning national titles.”