TEMPE – Once teammates create a bond and experience success together, the connection can be tough to break.
For four youth hockey teammates, the bond was so strong that it drew them back together more than 2,500 miles from where their connection was formed.
Now, almost five years since the four won a national championship in 16U hockey together in Anchorage, Alaska, Jill Ketchum, Berkleigh Radcliffe, Ella McKenna and Brooklyn Kallander have reunited in Tempe to chase another title together as teammates on the Arizona State women’s hockey team.
The Sun Devils drop the puck on their 2022-23 season on Oct. 1 against Utah at Oceanside Ice Arena, and Kallander makes no secret of the expectations she and her teammates have for the season.
“I think this team could win a national championship,” she said.
As a member of the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League, the Sun Devils will play the 2022-23 season for the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Championship. The Division I conference, separate from the NCAA, also hosts crosstown rival Grand Canyon University.
Given the history Kallander has with Ketchum, Radcliffe and McKenna, she ought to know what the Sun Devils are capable of doing. After the four played on the same Anchorage North Stars team that won the 16U Tier II USA Hockey National Championship, they scattered across the country to pursue their careers at the next level.
Ketchum played forward for Adrian College in Michigan. Radcliffe was a defenseman at SUNY Buffalo State. Ketchum and Radcliffe headed to the desert in 2020, transferring to ASU first. They’re now seniors.
Meanwhile, McKenna wasn’t enjoying her time at Post University in Connecticut and Kallander was thinking about leaving Adrian College in Michigan to be closer to her home in Gilbert, where her family moved after her freshman year of high school in Anchorage.
Radcliffe and Ketchum ended up in the Valley of the Sun after a conversation that Ketchum initiated to ask Radcliffe what she thought about Buffalo State, not Arizona State.
“Jill reaches out to me and she’s like, ‘Hey, I just entered the transfer portal. Like, I’m looking at other schools. What do you think about Buffalo?’” Radcliffe said. “And I was like, ‘That’s actually hilarious, because I’m transferring. I gave her my honest opinion about Buffalo.”
In the end, both decided to transfer to ASU.
Both Ketchum and Radcliffe have enjoyed success in the maroon and gold. In 2021, Ketchum was second on the team with 30 points, including 17 goals and 13 assists. Radcliffe also made her mark, scoring six goals and dishing out 11 assists.
Then McKenna and Kallander entered the transfer portal with ASU in mind as a potential destination.
“Me and Brooklyn were kind of chatting about the two of us transferring,” McKenna said. “It had gotten brought up that both of us were interested in ASU, and I think the fact that the four of us were here kind of (convinced) me and Brooklyn to get in here.”
The four realized it was an opportunity for the group to run it back for a second championship together, only at a higher level. However, even though the dream scenario was tantalizing, Ketchum and Radcliffe wanted to make sure that it was something their old friends from Anchorage truly would be comfortable doing.
“We were honest with them,” Ketchum said. “We’re not just trying to recruit girls. These are our friends, and we’re not going to sugarcoat it for them about the ups and downs of it all.”
Collegiate athletics take a toll on bodies and minds, and the fit needed to be right for all of the athletes for the reunion to work out in the Grand Canyon State.
“I was really nervous to transfer because I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice and end up not liking the school again,” McKenna said. “I knew they would tell me, so I got some input from them and had a few conversations … then they locked me in and dragged me into their house with them.”
When McKenna, now a sophomore, and Kallander, a junior, committed to Arizona State, the hockey band was back together.
And there is an added benefit. When the four were playing at small universities located in the upper Midwest and on the East Coast, it was difficult for their families to travel to their games.
Traveling to Phoenix is comparatively easy with plenty of non-stop flights available from Anchorage.
McKenna said the group expects to see a lot of their families at games this season, just like old times.
“We definitely didn’t think that we’d ever be playing together again, especially not at the collegiate level,” Radcliffe said. “It’s really cool that we get to come together and step on the ice again … We still have all that chemistry from when we were younger and we all grew up in similar situations. It’s nice having them here and having people that we can relate to.”