Road warriors: Sun Devil hockey feels ready for monumental task of all-road, Big Ten schedule

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It took longer than anyone expected. It took longer than what was reasonable, but the Arizona State hockey team finally knows the first half of its all-Big Ten, all-on-the-road schedule for the 2020-21 season. The Big Ten released that portion on Thursday, after providing teams with a sneak peek on Tuesday so that they could begin planning.

“We’re close to being able to play hockey and we’re happy about that,” ASU coach Greg Powers said. “That’s really all that matters now.”

The Sun Devils will open at Michigan on Nov. 14, playing two games at Yost Ice Arena against the Wolverines (the second game is Nov. 15) before meeting Michigan State for two games at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing on Nov. 19 and 20.

The next two series will be at LaBahn Arena in Madison against Wisconsin on Nov. 28 and 29, and at Compton Family Ice Arena against Notre Dame on Dec. 3 and 4. The next two series are at Penn State and Ohio State.

To limit the risk of COVID-19 infection, Powers said that the Sun Devils will remain on the road for three weeks (encompassing the first eight games), staying in hotels and bussing between locations.

“It just makes sense,” Powers said. “All of our players are online for school. Why get back on a plane for two more flights and expose our guys to this thing if we can avoid it? It’s a little cheaper to stay than to go back and forth. We can practice on the road.”

Here’s what life will look like on the road. Everyone in the limited traveling party will be tested daily, generally right before practice. The team will stay in hotels in each city that are near the associated rinks. Those hotels may contain other guests, but the Sun Devils expect to have their own floors and will eat their meals in banquet rooms.

Powers said the Devils will largely adhere to the practice times they employ in Tempe for consistency sake. That will also allow the player to keep a normal online course schedule. The team will not have academic support staff on the road with them because the traveling party is limited, but they will have constant access to such resources.

“We have already relayed to the parents that if they choose to go to the venues they can watch, but meals and hotel interaction, we just can’t do it. It’s not something we’re happy about but we are in a position where we can create our own bubble so interaction with anyone outside of it is going to be very very limited,” Powers said. “There will be no restaurants or bowling or movies, but maybe we’ll get some nice weather early and we’ll be able to do stuff outside. Our guys aren't going to be held prisoner. If they want to go outside for a walk they’ll be able to do that. Just wear a mask and don’t go around hugging everybody. 

“They have proven that they can operate under these conditions while living on campus in Tempe. They deserve a little bit of flexibility and to be treated like adults. They know what’s at stake. This environment at home is a lot harder and there is a lot more temptation and distractions than we’ll have when we’re on the road when we have our thumbs on them. If we can get through that at home, we’re very confident about our chances of getting through it on the road.”

ASU expects to fly to Ann Arbor on Nov. 13. In the meantime, the Sun Devils are taking advantage of a full month of a full practice schedule, preceded by limited practice time in which Powers previously said they focused on skill development. Through a combination of film and on-ice work, they have been able to fully implement their systems.

“The first seven or eight weeks of working with them in small groups and really polishing them up and getting a good base laid out for every player really paid off because as soon as we started to practice with a full team they were just sharp and their execution was really high,” he said. “We have done a lot of intra-squad games to keep them competitive. We have had strictly special teams scrimmages where we have power plays going at either end. The guys are well conditioned. If we had to play tonight I’d feel really confident that we’d be ready to go.”

Defenseman Jacob Semik will not be eligible for the Sun Devil’s season opener while he serves a one-game suspension. Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics

Lines/pairs

Powers did not want to speculate on lines or defensive pairs because he is still “throwing stuff into a blender and finding things out.” As an example, he played forwards James Sanchez, Sean Dhooghe and Johnny Walker on a line together in practice this week and they looked terrific together.

The Sun Devils will have to play their first game without defenseman Jacob Semik, who must serve a one-game suspension carried over from last year for leaving the bench in the season finale at Wisconsin. That suspension would have been served in the first game of the NCAA Tournament, but the global pandemic forced the cancellation of the tournament.

Semik’s absence means Powers will operate for one game without three of his top four defenseman from a year ago (Josh Maniscalco and Brinson Pasichnuk turned pro).

Loose pucks

Let’s start with this news which broke after this story was published:

  • Powers said the Sun Devils are fully healthy with a little more than one week to play before the season starts.

  • Powers said the top power play has looked excellent with Dhooghe manning the middle of the team’s 1-3-1 formation. “He supports the puck really well,” Powers said.

  • I asked Powers what the Devils will do to pass the time in the hotel if the weather does not permit outdoor activity. “We’re going to have to get creative,” he said. “Maybe we’ll do Xbox tournaments. It’s not ideal but nothing right now is ideal. We just want to play hockey.”

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter: @CraigSMorgan