Big Ten Season Gets Underway vs. #12 Michigan
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Nearly eight months after the cancelation of all NCAA winter competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, No. 15 ASU will drop the puck this weekend against No.12 Michigan to begin the 2020-21 season.
The Sun Devils begin their conference-only competition with the Big Ten after coming to a one-season scheduling agreement in late October. ASU will play 28 road games - four against each Big Ten team - starting this Saturday at 3 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. MT in Ann Arbor on BTN+. Sunday's rematch will be nationally televised on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. MT.
"Our guys are chomping at the bit and excited to take the ice against someone else after the last two months of practice and preparation," said head coach Greg Powers. "We are confident in the talent and depth we have up and down our roster, and look forward to the challenge of a very talented Michigan squad."
The team enters a 22-day road trip with a goal of minimizing air travel, where they will stay and bus to play Michigan State in East Lansing, to Wisconsin the week of Thanksgiving, and finally to South Bend to take on No. 20 Notre Dame the first week of December.
This will be the fourth time in history the Sun Devils play Michigan with the Wolverines winning each of the previous three matchups. This will be ASU's second trip to Yost Arena, where they suffered two 3-5 losses to close out the 2017-18 season. In those two games, then-freshman Johnny Walker netted four of the six goals. Seniors Jacob Wilson, Dominic Garcia, Filips Buncis and Gvido Jansons were the only other Sun Devils on the active roster. Former Wolverine and current Sun Devil James Sanchez scored two goals for Michigan in the series.
Scouting the Sun Devils
Coming off a program-best, 22-win season in 2019-20, and what was anticipated to be their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the Sun Devils embark on their first road trip as one of the more experienced programs in college hockey with 15 upperclassmen and eight seniors -- two with 100-plus games of experience and four with over 90.
While the Maroon & Gold lost two of their top scorers in defensemen Brinson Pasichnuk (graduated) and Josh Maniscalco (signed with Pittsburgh), they return their 1-2 punch of Johnny Walker and James Sanchez who combined for 78 points on the top line. Walker returns for his senior campaign leading all active NCAA players with 60 goals in his last three seasons. He also sits in 5th for career points with 96 in 100 games played for ASU.
Between the pipes, junior Evan DeBrouwer carried a bulk of the workload in 2019-20, playing in 22 games with a 19-10-3 record. This season he has depth behind him with freshman and New Jersey Devils' 5th round draft pick Cole Brady, who posted a 21-12-3 record for Fargo (USHL), and sophomore Justin Robbins who helped lead Chicago (USHL) to the Clark Cup in 2019.
Coach Powers calls the 2020-21 Sun Devil roster the deepest the program has ever had to date. A big part of the added depth is the arrival of the six incoming freshmen and three transfers. The three transfers include Chris Grando (Boston College), Sean Dhooghe (Wisconsin) and Tanner Hickey (Alabama-Huntsville) -- all of which were key contributors to their respective programs before transferring. The Sun Devil roster features a total of five transfers with the additions of James Sanchez (Michigan) and Willie Knierim (Miami) last year. The incoming freshmen class was at one point ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, according to Neutralzone.net, which includes two NHL draft picks in forward Ryan O'Reilly (Detroit) and goaltender Cole Brady (New Jersey).
Prior to the cancellation of all NCAA competition, Michigan was preparing to face-off against Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. After moving up from last place in the Big Ten standings by finishing the second half of the season with a 9-3-2 record, Michigan was awarded the #3 seed in the tournament. The Wolverines finished the season with an 18-14-4 record.
Six different players signed pro-contracts from the class of 2020, and despite graduating a large senior class, the Wolverines will return 18 players from last season's roster. College Hockey News ranks Michigan's freshmen class the top in the nation with 10 newcomers -- four of which have already been drafted and three that have been proposed to go early in the 2021 first round. They also return 2019 first round draftees Cam York and Johnny Beecher, who recorded 16-point seasons in their rookie campaigns.
Debatably the centerpiece for Michigan is the reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and Mike Richter finalist Strauss Mann, who is coming off of a 1.85 goals against average, .939 save percentage and six shutouts in 35 games.