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What conference will Arizona State's hockey team call home?

The courtship for the Sun Devils has begun in earnest. Both the NCHC and WCHA have contacted ASU to join beginning in 2017.

Matt Christians/Arizona State

Arizona State's NCAA  hockey team has yet to play a game, but that doesn't stop the Sun Devils from being the desert belles of the ball Tuesday.

There are many things still to be decided following the announcement  Arizona State will be West Coast pioneers and begin a men's hockey program - thanks to a $32 million donation from Milwaukee businessman Don Mullett and others - beginning with where to play.

Unlike Penn State in 2010, the last major team to announce it will begin a program, there is no natural fit. The Sun Devils will be the first D1 team in the Southwest. Only Alabama-Huntsville is also in the southern half of the United States. The only two teams west of Tempe are both thousands of miles away in Alaska.

That doesn't stop several conferences from throwing their hats into the ring to grab a name school in other sports.

Both the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) appear to be courting ASU, according to several reports.

Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald wrote Tuesday the NCHC has been in contact with Arizona State. Formed in 2013 from a combination of WCHA and CCHA schools, the NCHC has eight teams stretching from Colorado to Ohio/Michigan. Several are hockey royalty with the conference having some of the top attendance figures in the country.

Two of those teams - Denver and Colorado College - are in the same time zone as the Sun Devils and would be the closest (if 800-850 miles can be considered close) to Tempe.

It would also give the NCHC a larger national presence. While the conference tried during its formation to court Notre Dame (the Fighting Irish eventually decided to join Hockey East), it doesn't have a Power 5 school like the Pac-12 Sun Devils among its ranks.

Meanwhile, Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press reported that new WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson is very interested and has started discussions with the Sun Devils. From Frederick:

Robertson hinted as much over the summer, shortly after taking the position. Not naming names, he said he had talked to "western" schools in regards to league and college-hockey expansion.

"Part of my vision is to grow the WCHA and college hockey," Robertson said on Tuesday. "There's a lot of potential in the sun belt for growth in college hockey."

The WCHA, with a history going back to 1951, has ten schools covering a footprint from Alaska to Alabama to Michigan. The schools are of various sizes though Arizona State would be the largest.

(They even have space on the wall at Bemidji.)

The third conference with a western footprint is the Big Ten, which currently has six schools sponsoring college hockey.

There is no report that the B1G is looking at Arizona State.  However, as Jason Gonzalez of the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out the conference has stated in the past it would consider expansion beyond its 14 members.

Joining the Big Ten would mean the Sun Devils face 6 of the other 8 Power 5 schools that have D1 men's hockey. The conference also does have the best national television deal of the three thanks to its in-house Big Ten Network. (The NCHC has games on CBS Sports Network while the WCHA has none.) ASU already has its own television thanks to the Pac-12 Network.

Attempts to reach the Big Ten for comment were not returned.

Still, if all goes well for Arizona State any stop could be temporary. That likely is the hope. AD Ray Anderson said Tuesday that he hoped the school being the first to add Division 1 hockey will "tip the dominoes" on other Pac-12 and West Coast schools doing the same. He added later that there are other schools with endowments that could.

Wherever it lands, college hockey's 60th and newest program will begin a three-year transition to NCAA Division 1 beginning in 2015. The Sun Devils, currently the defending ACHA (club hockey) Division 1 champion, will schedule both NCAA and ACHA teams during the 2015-16 season. In 2016-17 it will be an independent playing a full Division 1 schedule before fully integrating in 2017-18.

By then the Sun Devils will have a conference to call home.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --