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Sun Devil Hockey Falls Short of NCAA Tournament Bid

In its last season as an independent program, Arizona State hockey set its new record for wins in a single season with 24 in the 2023-24 campaign. Finishing with an overall record of 24-8-6, it was a historic season for the Sun Devils with multiple records being rewritten. 

In a season that saw major contributions from upperclassmen, Arizona State swept No. 15 ranked Merrimack College to open the season off with a 2-0 record. Senior forward Matthew Kopperud scored the game-winning goal in the first contest against Merrimack to give ASU a 1-0 overtime win. Kopperud, whose 23 goals this season led the team, also led the nation in power play goals with 17. The Denver, Colorado native was third in points with 36 for Arizona State and recorded his 100th career collegiate point against Lindenwood University on Feb. 3, 2024. Kopperud signed with the Bridgeport Islanders, the New York Islanders AHL affiliate team at the season’s conclusion.

Arguably the Sun Devils best win of the season came against the No. 2 ranked University of Denver Pioneers in a 6-5 overtime win at Mullett Arena during the first game of the school's weekend series. Seniors Ty and Dylan Jackson both put up three-point performances in the winning effort. Transfer graduate student and Sun Devil captain Tyler Gratton sent ASU fans into a frenzy scoring the game-winning goal to end the game. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the AHL inked Gratton to a contract at the end of the season. The forward core lost the Jackson twins in the second half of the season due to injuries. Ty played in 21 games and Dylan played in 15 games out of the team’s 38 games in total. When healthy, these two played key minutes on the top forward line along with senior Lukas Sillinger. 

Sillinger scored 48 points in the 2023-24 season which set the program’s new record for points in a single season. The senior scored 11 goals and scored his first career hat trick in ASU’s last series of the season against Alaska Anchorage. The Bemidji State transfer’s 37 assists tied third best in the nation.

Senior defenseman Tim Lovell was second in scoring for the Sun Devils with five goals and 32 assists, equaling to 37 points on the season. Lovell set the record for most assists coming from an Arizona State defenseman in a single season. The shifty 5-foot-10 165-pound skater provided a strong offensive game on the back end for ASU.

Even though the Sun Devils came short of making the NCAA Tournament, they brought in some hardware this year. Arizona State won the Adirondack Winter Invitational in a shootout win over No. 17 Cornell University, 2-1. Freshman forward Kyle Smolen delivered the dagger in the shootout for the win but wasn’t done there. Smolen went on to score the game-deciding goal in the Desert Hockey Classic final against University of Omaha Nebraska a week later. The Sun Devils won 2-1 in overtime and collected their second in season tournament trophy of the season. Transfer graduate student defenseman Bradon Tabakin was credited with one of the assists on Smolen’s goal.

Tabakin led ASU in plus minus with a +26 rating. The Woodbury, New York native provided a strong defensive game for Power’s defensive core. Tabakin put up 10 points on the season and the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL signed him at the end of the year. 

Another upset win for Arizona State came against No. 9 ranked Providence College at Mullett Arena. Dylan Jackson slid the puck through the Friar netminder’s five-hole in overtime on a semi breakaway to give ASU a 4-3 overtime win. Junior goalie TJ Semptimphelter made 38 saves in the contest. Semptimphelter was nominated for the Mike Richter Award (given to the best goalie in college hockey) but struggled after receiving the recognition. Sophomore goalie Gibson Homer played a majority of the remaining games in the later half of the season. Both goalies put up respectable numbers in the crease for the Sun Devils. Semptimphelter posted a 16-5-4 record, 2.52 GAA, and a .908 SV%. Homer went 8-3-2 with a 2.04 GAA and a .931 SV%.

ASU celebrated 11 senior and graduate students this season. Seniors included Ty and Dlyan Jackson, Alex Young, Benji Erckle, Ryan O’Reilly, Matthew Kopperud, Lukas Sillinger, and Tim Lovell. Graduate students were Tyler Gratton, Brandon Tabakin, and Brian Chambers. Chambers signed with the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL at the conclusion of the season.

In the end, ASU finished 19th in pairwise rankings. With 16 teams making the NCAA Tournament, the Sun Devils came close but not close enough to making it back to the tournament for the first time since the 2018-19 season. 

Arizona State will join the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) next season. The Sun Devils will be the ninth team joining the conference. ASU played four teams in the NCHC this season and went 2-2-2 against NCHC opponents. Heading into their 10th season in NCAA Division 1 play, Arizona State will no longer play as an independent team. 

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