(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)

With two benchmark victories in a brutally-scheduled season, Arizona State hockey is slowly watching the fruits of its labor develop. On the other side of the country, another young Division-I hockey program has achieved a level of success many didn’t think was possible in five short years.

Penn State was named the number one team in the land by the USCHO.com poll for the first time in program history. Five years and four seasons after its start in college hockey’s highest level, the Nittany Lions have reached the top for the week.

“It’s awesome,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said. “Those guys do it right, [Penn State head coach] Guy [Gadowsky] is a great guy. He’s worked his butt off with his entire staff to get them where they are in a short period of time.”

There are numerous parallels to the growth of both programs from infancy and also plenty of differences. First and foremost, the Nittany Lions enjoyed Terry and Kim Pegula’s massive $102 million donation with immediate plans for an arena the team could call its own. Arizona State received $32 million from Don Mullett but plans for a leaving Oceanside Ice Arena have only just appeared on the horizon with the Arizona Coyotes attempting to move to a new arena in Tempe.

When it comes to the play on the ice, it’s intriguing to think Arizona State’s victory as an ACHA program over Penn State during its inaugural year in the NCAA as the first chapter of the blueprint the Nittany Lions have created. It was on Dec. 2, 2012 when the Sun Devils claimed a 3-1 win and the program’s first win over a D-I program.

For the Nittany Lions, they would finish their first hybrid year with a 7-12-0 mark in NCAA play. By comparison, ASU played eight more games and finished 5-22-2 in its first year. Yet in Powers’ eyes, it’s this second year proving his team is on the right track.

“In their equivalent year, they won seven regular season games and we think we’ve played a really tough schedule,” Powers said.

ASU’s record currently sits at 7-17-2.

Let’s take a look at both programs’ second year in the NCAA. Two of Penn State’s seven victories came against a ranked opponent — No. 10 Michigan twice. However, 16 of the team’s 25 losses were also against ranked opposition. In all, the Nittany Lions played 18 games against ranked teams with an average opponent ranking of 9.16 in their 2-16-0 record.

Arizona State has eight more NCAA games this season, with four against currently ranked opponents — No. 17 Quinnipiac and No. 13 Western Michigan. Using those rankings at the time of writing, ASU is 1-17-1 (the shootout win at No. 10 Ohio State is officially a tie) with an average ranking of 10.08.

Below, we charted the next two seasons for Penn State along with the first full year in the NCAA. We tracked ranked opponent record, average opponent ranking, weeks spent in the USCHO.com poll, and regular season record.

*Note, the USCHO.com Poll ranks 24 non-consecutive weeks per season

Year Ranked Opp Record Average Opp Rank PSU rank Record
’13-’14 2-16-0 9.16 Not ranked 7-25-2
’14-’15 5-6-0 12.54 16 weeks RV

2 weeks ranked (#20/#19)

18-14-4
’15-’16 0-6-1 9.85 9 weeks RV

15 weeks ranked (#20-#14)

20-12-4

Penn State has the luxury of playing in a competitive conference and its proximity to other strong programs to keep travel costs low. ASU will likely have to continue scheduling ranked opponents across the country knowing it currently lacks the conference play it needs to keep its strength of schedule high (Penn State’s S.O.S. is currently at 22, with ASU’s at 36).

“They’ve set the benchmark and we’re trying and live up to that,” Powers said.

That benchmark is to continue to face ranked opponents in the program’s infancy and reap the benefits with fewer such opponents when your team is established.

“It’s going to be hard to continue to do, but they’ve done it and laid the blueprint and we’re going to try and follow it,” Powers continued.

When you look at the timeline for Penn State, it is year four of full Division-I play and the Nittany Lions have reached No. 1. Year four for Arizona State would be 2020, which could include a new arena in Tempe courtesy the Coyotes.

Good timing.

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Dominic Cotroneo
Dominic Cotroneo has served as a broadcaster for ASU Hockey and ASU Baseball for each of the last three years. You can follow him on Twitter @Dom_Cotroneo

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