TEMPE, Ariz. -- It wasn’t supposed to end like this, but it did.
The nation’s No. 1 ranked team for most of the season, Arizona State was heading into an ACHA Final Four match-up against a ninth-seeded Lindenwood that they had swept during the regular season. Sparky seemed destined for a date with a national championship.
Sixty minutes later, ASU was skating off the ice on the wrong end of a 6-4 final score.
For the Sun Devils’ team captain, only one emotion was present in the moments after the final horn.
“Disappointment,” said Colin Hekle.
Now four months removed from the heartbreaking loss, Hekle considers the year to have been a major positive for the program despite the abrupt ending.
“It was definitely a success for the program,” Hekle said. “We made some huge jumps. Being the No. 1 team in the country for eight weeks was definitely a huge step in the right direction for the program. Not going all the way is a disappointment, but in the bigger scheme of things and where the program is headed, it is a big success.”
The facts support Hekle’s belief. Never before had Sun Devil hockey had so many landmark accomplishments, ranging from their first No. 1 ranking to making the exciting run to the Final Four. But it was the team’s road victory over Penn State, a NCAA Division I opponent, that topped Hekle’s list.
“I think going to Penn State and getting that win was big for everyone,” said Hekle of the late-December game. “For most guys, that’d be their number one thing. The Penn State win would be the highlight of the year for me.”
However, being able to extend ASU’s winning streak over rival Arizona to a staggering 32 games (UofA’s last win was on February 21, 2009) is not far behind.
“Beating UofA all of those times is always nice. I’m kind of getting used to that now, so that’s not a surprise to me,” Hekle said with a laugh.
A Winnipeg native, Hekle’s play was a primary reason for ASU’s dominance last season. Despite missing five games due to injury, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound center set career-highs in every offensive category in 2012-2013. Hekle tallied 24 goals and 55 points, the second-highest total on the team, while also using his size and reach to play outstanding defense.
Yet like most top players, Hekle is simultaneously encouraged by his successes while recognizing that there are areas to improve his game.
“I thought I had a pretty good season overall,” said Hekle. “Even with missing those last three weeks, I still had a pretty good offensive season. I’ve watched game tape over the break, and there are a few things I need to tweak up in my game to make myself better. Overall, I thought I had a pretty good season. I just need to get a little stronger and a little bigger to prevent getting those type of injuries that close to the end of the season.”
One area of Hekle’s game that continues to develop is his leadership, which has been an integral part to ASU’s success over the last few seasons. Now a senior, Hekle enters his third season as the team’s captain. While having the “C” on his sweater is nothing new for him, it’s an area that is constantly evolving.
“Over the last six years, there’s only been one year in which I wasn’t the captain of my team (freshman year at ASU),” Hekle said. “I’m used to that role, and I’m comfortable there. The more you go along as a captain, the more you learn about yourself and how you’re supposed to lead the guys. Leading older guys in a college atmosphere is a little bit different, so I’ve learned a few things about how to communicate with my player and coaches. It was a good season to brush up on how I want to lead.”
Given what lies ahead for both Hekle and the Sun Devil program, his leadership skills will be pushed to the limit this season.
What's next for Hekle & the Devils? Check back tomorrow for Part II of the story