For the state of Arizona, 2015 saw a new era of hockey in the desert begin. The Coyotes, reenergized by a youth movement, have taken advantage of a struggling Pacific Division to put themselves into the early playoff conversations. Across the valley, the Arizona State Sun Devils kicked off their inaugural NCAA college hockey season, which has been highlighted by wins over Alaska Fairbanks and Lake Superior State. There are more good things around the corner for hockey in Arizona as 2016 approaches.
The Coyotes have found themselves in a decent position after the holiday break. For a team that had its focus on building towards the future, Arizona could potentially have playoff hopes in the present. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have been thrilling to watch so far this season and they are just the first wave of young talent to hit the ice in the desert. Next season could see the likes of Christian Dvorak, Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini make their NHL debuts with the Coyotes.Arizona fans got to see that trio face each other on Saturday when Team USA and Team Canada faced each other in the first day of the 2016 World Junior Championship. In that game, Strome scored the game-tying goal in the third period for Canada, but it would be Dvorak and the United States squad that would come away with a 4-2 victory. Arizona is well represented in this year’s tournament with seven players between the United States (2), Canada (2) and Sweden (3). (THW has a full list of every team’s prospects available here.)
Further bolstering Arizona’s hockey profile in 2016 is Scottsdale-native Auston Matthews. Hockey fans who have not seen him play in Switzerland with the Zurich Lions this year will have an opportunity over the next two weeks as he headlines the United States roster during the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki. Matthews made his presence known on the world stage in a big way as he notched two points for Team USA, including the goal that gave the United States a two-goal edge over Team Canada late. This tournament will serve as a taste of what to expect from Matthews as he is projected to be the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. If he is capable of bringing his skills and talents to the highest professional level in 2016, fans will have something special to look forward to in the fall.
For Arizona State, 2016 will start off in a big way. The Sun Devils play St. Cloud State in Minnesota on January 1-2 before coming home to Tempe to face Connecticut on January 5. The following weekend, Arizona State hosts the Desert Hockey Classic in Glendale, a four-team tournament including Connecticut, Michigan Tech and Yale. This is just the beginning of college hockey’s best coming to the desert as the Sun Devils will make the transition to a complete NCAA schedule next fall, competing as an independent for the 2016-17 season.