TEMPE, AZ - They're the American Collegiate Hockey Association's No. 1-ranked team. They're a collection of top-tier hockey players from across North America. And perhaps most importantly, they enjoy a multi-year winning streak against their archrivals down south.
It's for all these reasons that the Sun Devils' Division I hockey team is perhaps the best collegiate program in the Valley that no one's talking about.
"We really built the culture up through going after the high-level kids. We've gotten them coming here and believing in our vision, and helping us carry that vision out," said ASU head coach Greg Powers, an ASU goaltender from 1995-99 who is entering his fourth season as Sun Devil head coach. "It's been great to see the transformation and really cool to be a part of."
The magnitude of that transformation under Powers cannot be understated. It includes a team with a record of 105-20-8 under Powers; a team coming off a national semifinal appearance and a victory over NCAA Division I squad Penn State last season; a national No. 1 ranking and a 14-0 record to open the 2013-14 campaign; and a new 3,000-square-foot facility, complete with a pro-style locker room, a players' lounge, and coaches' offices, at their home rink of Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.
Not bad for a team that finished with a losing record the year before Powers took the helm. "The one major change from back then to now is recruiting – just not being afraid to pick up the phone, call a high-level player, and tell them about our program," he said. "(We went after) kids that wanted to be a part of a transformation and help build a program.
"And most importantly, I'm an ASU grad. I have a passion for our university. I think the experience you can get going to ASU is one of the most unique college experiences in the country. It's different for high-level kids from Canada, the East Coast, or somewhere up north to come here and go to a school that they might not have considered for the entire time they were playing junior hockey. They get a call from Arizona State, and they embrace the idea of a different kind of path than they envisioned."
Powers has also facilitated a 180-degree swing in the Sun Devils' on-ice rivalry with the Arizona Wildcats. As a freshman, Powers was in net when the Devils ended UA's 68-game winning streak over ASU. Today, his Devils enjoy a 34-game winning streak over the Wildcats.
"It's something we all take pride in," he said. "From day one before they even get here, we educate the players on that rivalry and on how important it is to ASU and to our organization that we beat UA. We treat those eight games as a separate season within our season."
It's just one reason, according to Powers, for Valley fans to spend $5-$10 on a ticket to see the nation's No. 1 ACHA team in action.
"When people go the extra mile to educate themselves on our level of hockey, they figure out really fast that it's very high-level, good, skilled hockey," he said.
"This sports town is fickle, and what I've learned being here for 18 years is it only supports a winner. That's what we are. Our kids are passionate, and if they come out and see us play, they're going to come back. They're going to like seeing ASU on top, and they're going to like seeing the hometown team be the very best at what they do."