Two Bonnyville brothers will soon be trading in the harsh -40 C Alberta winters for the sunny 25 C winters of Tempe, Arizona.
Steenn Pasichnuk and brother Brinson Pasichnuk, who have spent the past two seasons playing together on the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs, have both committed to the Arizona State University Sun Devils for the 2016-17 hockey season.
“The hot weather is definitely going to be nice that is for sure,” said Steenn. “Their coach sent us a picture of the temperature the other day and it was 76 F. You can’t complain about that.”
While the warm weather will be a welcome change, the transition to Arizona could come as quite the culture shock for two brothers who have spent their entire young hockey careers playing in northeastern Alberta. Both players have taken a similar path on the ice playing Bantam AA with the Cold Lake Freeze, Midget AA with the Northeast Panthers and Midget AAA with the Lloydminster Bobcats before making the jump to the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) and their hometown Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs.
Twenty-year-old Steenn, the older of the two brothers, has racked up 35 goals and 70 assists over 162 games in a Pontiacs uniform while serving as team captain the past two seasons. The six-foot-four, 212-pound right-winger is the tallest player on the team, which is why it comes as no surprise that he is also one of the most physical players on the squad.
“He brings a physical presence to the lineup, which always sparks the boys,” said Brinson. “If we need a spark he can go out there fight, lay a big hit, and score. He is an all around great player.”
Over the course of 49 games during the 2015-16 season, Steenn has notched a career-high 19 goals, collected 49 points and picked up 113 penalty minutes. He is one of the toughest members of the Pontiacs dropping the mitts three times this season, with his last bout coming against Drayton Valley’s Craig Ofner in a game on Jan. 3.
“Steenn is a workhorse. He wants to be the best he can be,” said Bonnyville head coach and GM Rick Swan. “Brinson is a special talent. There is a lot of coachability and trust. They both apply what you ask them to do.”
Brinson, who turned 18-years-old on Nov. 24, made the Pontiacs out of training camp in 2014. After a pair of one-game call-ups in 2013, the defenceman has suited up in 110 regular season games, playing alongside Steenn for the past two seasons.
“Playing with Brinson on the Pontiacs was a dream come true,” said Steenn. “We never thought it would be able to happen at the college level, so this is just so surreal. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It is an amazing feeling.”
The younger Pasichnuk, who stands at six-foot, 185-pounds, has been racking up accolades all season long. Over two AJHL seasons Brinson has shown a knack for the net scoring 29 goals and chipping in 73 assists over 125 career games. In October of 2015, Brinson recorded seven goals and 14 assists through 12 games en route to the AJHL Player of the Month honors. His stellar month placed him on the radar of NHL Central Scouting. He is currently ranked 147th among North American skaters and is expected to have a shot at being selected in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
While the young Pontiacs defenceman had several other NCAA options, the opportunity to go play with Steenn at Arizona State was too much to pass up.
“Being able to play with my brother in college hockey is going to be something truly amazing,” said Brinson, who backed out of an earlier commitment with the University of Vermont in order to play for the Sun Devils. “(Vermont) had 13 defenseman committed (for next season). Obviously I am going to have to battle to be in the lineup every night, but battling with 13 other defenseman is a little excessive.”
When Arizona State came calling, the school offered both Brinson and Steenn full ride scholarships to the school and a spot on the roster for the 2016-17 season. The offer surprised the Pontiacs, as some thought a full ride scholarship was going to be hard to obtain for the 20-year-old Pontiac captain. Even Steen himself was caught off guard.
“I was a little surprised. Brinson is pretty flashy out there and he has a lot of skill so I knew he would get the full ride, but I wasn’t sure about myself,” said Steenn. “It is amazing that it worked out.”
Arizona State University, located in Tempe, Arizona, is the largest public university in the U.S with roughly 83,000 students enrolled across five Phoenix-area campuses.
In 2015 the ASU Sun Devils hockey program was elevated to NCAA Division I status and started competing in an independent division against the top collegiate hockey teams in the United States. The 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons will see the team play a hybrid schedule of NCAA Division I opponents and other top collegiate competition from the U.S and Canada. In 2017 the Sun Devils plan to compete as a member of a major conference, with the team possibly joining the BIG 10 or NCHC.
“We will be playing every game because they want to develop us,” said Steenn who was excited about joining a relatively new Division I program. “The players the bring in this year are going to get to develop the culture of the team for years to come.”
Along with the Pasichnuk brothers, the Sun Devils have also recruited two other AJHL standouts in Spruce Grove’s Tyler Busch and Sherwood Park’s Tyler Maltby.
“I am pretty good buddies with both of them,” said Brinson. “When we committed they were pretty excited. I am pretty excited too. It is going to be a good four years of my life spent there.”
The Pasichnuk brothers have nine regular season games left with the Pontiacs before entering the playoffs and an AJHL title run.
Come next season the brothers will be playing with each other again, but this time it will be in the Sun Devils, white, red and gold.
“Since I can remember my dream has always been to go play hockey in college,” said Steenn. “I am really excited.”