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Penmen going to the desert


SOME notes and thoughts while waiting for the puck to drop again ...

Arizona State, you may have heard, is making the jump from club hockey program to Division I. Ice hockey, that is. The Sun Devils will play as an independent this coming season, their schedule heavy with road games against Division I schools a very long way from their Tempe campus.

In early January, ASU will also play “Desert Hockey Classic” home games against Division I Yale, Michigan Tech and UConn.

But a check of the Sun Devils’ early-season schedule revealed an interesting opponent the weekend of Oct. 23-24: Southern New Hampshire University.

According to SNHU sports information director Greg Royce, the contest was scheduled before Arizona State made its move-up announcement last fall. Now, the Division II Penmen will battle a team filled with scholarship players.

It should be a memorable experience for the Penmen, to say the least.

The Yale, Michigan Tech and UConn games will be played in one of the Phoenix-area big arenas. Odds are, they’ll stage the SNHU contest at the Oceanside Ice Arena, a public rink off campus that makes JFK Coliseum look cavernous, by comparison.

We know from the Monarchs’ saga that hockey in the West is booming. Youth leagues are popping up everywhere. Insiders seem to think that Arizona State’s move to Division I, funded by $32 million in donations will pave the way for other Pac-12 schools to eventually join the party, too.

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Speaking of college hockey, UNH’s 2015-16 home schedule lacks a Midwest or West non-conference foe for only the second time in recent years. Like last year, though, the Wildcats get four shots at rival Maine. Two are Hockey East games and the other two, in Portland and Manchester, are designated as non-leaguers.

The Wildcats are down one assistant coach after Scott Borek left in June to join Nate Leaman’s staff at Providence College. Borek assisted Dick Umile for 13 seasons and was the Wildcats’ recruiting coordinator.

Borek has worked in Providence before. He assisted UNH grad (and hugely successful current Norwich U. coach) Mike McShane at PC from 1985 to ’88. Across town at Brown, Borek assisted current Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet for four years (1988-1992).

Borek, a 1985 Dartmouth grad, also served as the head coach at Lake Superior State for five years (1996-2001) and New England College in Henniker for the 2001-2002 season.

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Quite a week for Martin Jones, wasn’t it? The former Manchester Monarch — if the team had a Mount Rushmore of players, he’d be up there — went from being a backup to a star (Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles) to a backup to another star (Tuukka Rask in Boston) to a likely starter in San Jose.

Jones’ top competition for the San Jose first-string job is Alex Stalock, who during the 2012-13 AHL season took the Worcester Sharks into battle many a night against Jones’ Monarchs.

Should Jones win the job, his opening night foe will be — you guessed it — the Los Angeles Kings, Oct. 7, at the Staples Center.

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Fans under water waiting for the AHL to return to Manchester might want to buy a snorkel.

This from AHL Commissioner Dave Andrews, as told to L.A. Kings Insider Jon Rosen on June 13: “I don’t think we anticipate the AHL going back into Manchester. The Monarchs, and the L.A. Kings have done the right thing here relative to keeping their brand in Manchester and moving their ECHL team there, and I think there will be good support for the team.

“The fans have been very supportive of the American League over the years,” continued Andrews, “and we don’t look to move into ECHL markets, so it’s an ECHL market now, and I hope they have great success.”

We wish the new team success, as well. And we figure the commish means we’re an ECHL market now because an ECHL team resides here now.

But if you’re talking about our hockey identity, there is no doubt Manchester is AHL-worthy. It was before the Monarchs arrived 14 years ago and it will be even while an ECHL resides here — even if the ECHL, as a league, evolves into something more than it is now.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that nothing lasts forever. Take Providence, for example. For decades, the Providence Reds were among the strongest franchises in the AHL. Then they moved after the 1977 season.

Fifteen years passed before Providence — a city not unlike Manchester when it comes to a knowledgeable and dedicated hockey fan base — gained another pro team. And now the Providence Bruins of the AHL are the bellwether of Northeast minor league hockey teams.

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Chris Duffy is the chief sports editor. His email is cduffy@unionleader.com.

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