Be sure to catch Part I of this story here
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Colin Hekle is the heart and soul of Sun Devil hockey.
Considering the immense talent that resides on the roster, that is an incredible accomplishment.
The team returns their top five scorers from a year ago, as well as their starting goaltender among several other key pieces. But what elevates ASU from a likely preseason Top 5 team into the presumptive No. 1 is the strength of the incoming recruiting class that head coach Greg Powers has assembled.
Over the last few years, Powers has done an outstanding job of plucking top hockey talent from hockey hotbeds in the United States and Canada. That has been a major reason why ASU has transform into one of the nation’s premier programs.
This year’s class addresses the few areas of team need—skilled defensemen, physical forwards, goaltending depth—with players that Hekle believes contribute immediately.
“They all look like they’ve been coming from top-class organizations, from the USHL and places like that,” said Hekle. “Looking at their stats and where they came from and the pedigree of the players that have come out of those leagues, I’m pretty excited to see what those players are going to offer our team. I think they are going to have huge impacts right away.”
While Powers and his staff do the work of assembling the talent from all corners of the continent, the coach does involves his captain in the process.
“Coach Powers always sends me a list of the players he’s looking at, and I’ll look over them and look at their stats and watch some film if I can find any,” said Hekle. “Other than that, when they come to Tempe, I take them out and show them a good time, make sure they feel comfortable around the other guys, and make sure they feel like it’s a place they want to come to.”
The trust that Powers has in his captain has been earned over the years, as each as worked to build ASU hockey from an afterthought into one of the unquestioned elite. Over the course of Hekle’s time in Tempe, he has seen enough to believe that Powers is the driving force behind the transformation of the program.
“The place that the program was in when I started here is a complete distant memory to where it is today,” said Hekle. “His impact on this program has been huge. Even with the teams we play, now we get NCAA Division I opponents. We get CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) opponents to play against. In my first year, we would have gotten blown out by them. With his recruiting, he’s taken the program to a whole other level where we can compete with any team in any league that we play in.”
While most every other program would kill for the talent that ASU now has, there are some challenges that these riches pose.
“We need to cope with all the talent that we’re bringing in, and being able to place them in the right spots to not get complacent in their roles,” Hekle said. “We need to make sure that the guys that are in and out of the lineup aren’t getting disheartened. Our biggest obstacle is to deal with how much skill and talent that we have on our roster and being able to use it properly.”
On the ice, that influx of new talent, particularly at forward, could see Hekle on the move.
Although a high-scoring center, the majority of Hekle’s hockey career has been on the blueline as a defenseman, where his size and reach are ideal traits. Those skills and experience may result in a move to his old spot. While nothing has been decided yet, Hekle is prepared for either result.
“It all depends on where the recruiting is, defense-wise,” said Hekle of the possible move. “I played defense until I was about 16 years old and was always a top defenseman. It’s a position that I’m very comfortable in. Center is not far off from defense. With my offensive ability, I think it would be a very big threat if they put me on defense. But as of now, I’m still a forward. In my leagues this summer, I’m playing a little bit of defense and brushing up on my game. I don’t think it will be a problem at all if they put me on defense.”
While his Sun Devil career is winding down, Hekle does hope that he won’t have to leave the ice in the future.
“It all depends on how well I do this year,” said Hekle of his pro prospects. “I’m going to have my degree, so I’ll have that to fall back on, but I’d really like to play hockey after ASU. I’d like to play in American, or if I could go to Europe, that’d be amazing. I’d love to have that experience to be able to go to a different country and play hockey.”
Regardless of where his life after ASU takes him, Hekle sees nothing but a bright future for Sun Devil hockey.
“The sky is the limit for this program,” said Hekle. “I think it could go NCAA in the next couple of years because of the ability to recruit to a place like Arizona. You get the sun. You get the weather. The beautiful girls. If they do end up keeping the pattern of great seasons like this past one and the next one, I think they can go Division I just like Penn State did and do extremely well.”
But first, there is the business of this season, and for Hekle, that means national title or bust.
“I’m not going into this season with anything less than a championship. For me, if it’s anything less, it’s a disappointment. This is my last year. It’s my last shot. I’m going to put it all out there.
“There’s nothing but a national championship in my sights this year.”