By Craig Morgan, thesundevils.com Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Desert Hockey Classic is the most tangible product of the year-old partnership between Sun Devil Athletics and the Arizona Coyotes, but the first NCAA hockey tournament ever played in the Valley is just one of many potential benefits from this budding relationship.
"If we can do anything in collaboration with the Coyotes to promote hockey generally and light a fuse to advance hockey at all levels, it seems strategic and makes sense," Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson said. "Hockey at any level, particularly hockey in the Valley, is exciting and something that needs to be advanced -- not only in the Valley but on the West Coast and, selfishly, in the collegiate space."
The Sun Devil men's hockey team will host Yale, Connecticut and Michigan Tech in the two-day tournament (Jan. 8 and 10) at Gila River Arena in Glendale, home of the Coyotes. This week's games (ASU also plays Connecticut on Tuesday at Oceanside Ice Arena), mark the first time that ASU has hosted Division I opponents since announcing it would elevate its club program to NCAA Division I status in November, 2014. The games this week also mark the first time two NCAA Division I hockey teams have ever met in the Valley.
"To see hockey getting to another level by Arizona State adding a team is huge," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "It's a testament to the state of hockey and how it is growing in Arizona, and I think ASU will help speed up that process even more."
Sun Devils coach Greg Powers was the driving force behind the tournament, but a pair of existing relationships ignited the ASU-Coyotes partnership. Mike Hume, the Coyotes' Executive Vice President for Corporate and Suite Sales has a strong relationship with Sun Devil Athletics Associate Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer, Greg McElroy. Jeff Morander, the Coyotes Executive Vice President for Ticket Sales and Strategy is close with Sun Devil Athletics Senior Associate Athletic Director, Dave Cohen.
"When ASU started talking about going the Division I they needed a rink to play Division I games and we obviously have this sparkling facility out here," Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. "The reality is, ASU has been a great partner from the get-go.
"Our view is that anything that is going to put a spotlight on the sport of hockey in the middle of a campus of 83,000 students is a good thing. To me, it's an organic thing. When you help grow the game at the youth level and you help partner with ASU to grow the game at the collegiate level, it's going to do nothing but help us on a professional level."
It’s no secret that ASU and the Coyotes are exploring the possibility of building a shared hockey arena. Anderson said the Sun Devils want a home arena with suitable capacity in the next two to three years to help with recruiting and to coincide with their move to one of the NCAA's hockey conferences. The Coyotes' arena lease and management agreement with the City of Glendale expires after the 2016-17 NHL season.
"We're open to a variety of potential solutions including doing our own or in conjunction with another partner," Anderson said. "Think about the efficiencies of that; the expanded things you can do with a shared facility. Not only is it economically more efficient but the offerings you can potentially put in there with ice shows, concerts, plays and conferences -- not to mention hockey games, expanded youth programs, lessons, adult programs and maybe you end up playing basketball or other Olympic sports in a shared venue.
"If you can provide that then you're talking about jobs, you're talking about tax revenue, you're talking about concessions and economic impact. You're talking about something significant that impacts a broader community. That's in line with my thinking and I know it's in line with my boss, president (Michael) Crow's vision for this university."
Anderson said the tournament will serve as a showcase for the Phoenix area's ability to host major collegiate events, but he also noted that the Valley has a lengthy history of success with major events.
Three Super Bowls have been played in the Valley, and University of Phoenix Stadium will host its second college football national championship game on Jan. 11. The Valley will also play host to the NCAA men's basketball Final Four in 2017.
"I said publicly last year during the Super Bowl that one of the things we're excited about doing is making a bid to the NCAA to host the Frozen Four," Anderson said. "I feel confident in saying we're going to have a Frozen Four here in the next three to five years."
The Sun Devils' game vs. Yale on Jan. 8 will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks, allotting programming to which the conference normally wouldn't have access since no other teams in the conference have NCAA sanctioned programs. Anderson hopes that changes soon.
"Our thinking is that over time, we're going to shame some of the other Pac-12 schools into adding hockey," Anderson said. "I can't name the institutions or athletic directors but I have already had two tell me that, given what we've done, they've already had donors approach them to say 'how do we get involved in hockey?'
"We should have our own conference with six to eight teams minimum. We are in several NHL markets already with Cal, Stanford and Colorado. You've got some great potential markets in Oregon and Washington, and of course, they've already won Stanley Cup championships with the Kings in L.A. Once everybody sees how people embrace it here, and in this great NHL facility the Coyotes are affording us, they'll understand it can be a great success in the west."