Story by Evan Oscherwitz
Cole Brady’s freshman season at Arizona State has been a chaotic one to say the least.
Despite having to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most unforgiving schedules in college hockey history and a lengthy illness that sidelined him for over a month, Brady has firmly established himself as the Sun Devils’ number one goaltender for the foreseeable future.
His play has been one of the few silver linings in an otherwise nightmarish season for ASU, and his coaches are convinced that he has yet to reach his peak.
“It’s definitely a crazy season,” Brady said. “Obviously, things are constantly changing with everything that’s going on right now so nothing’s guaranteed. You just take what you’re given and roll with it.”
Brady’s philosophy of taking what he’s been given has paid big dividends. The Pickering, Ontario native began the season as the backup to junior Evan DeBrouwer, who won 19 games as ASU’s starter in 2019-20.
While he had been drafted by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils in 2019, expectations were not overly high for Brady, and it seemed like he would have to wait for his chance at the starting job.
Remarkably, the lack of a normal offseason and training camp did not prevent Brady from exceeding expectations right away. In his first career start, Brady stopped 44 of 47 shots against a Michigan team that had scored eight goals on DeBrouwer the day before.
While his debut performance could have easily been dismissed as beginner’s luck, Brady proved it was anything but, outplaying DeBrouwer once again in the ensuing series against Michigan State.
Keep your eye on this @SunDevilHockey freshman 👀
— Arizona State Sun Devils (@TheSunDevils) November 17, 2020
His first two college starts were encouraging, but Brady began to show cracks in the weeks that followed. He allowed 13 goals in his next three appearances and was pulled from a game against Ohio State on Dec. 17 after letting in three goals on eight shots.
In practice, he looked sluggish and struggled to gain the confidence of his teammates. Eventually, the team realized that something was amiss, and after another lackluster performance against Minnesota on Jan. 4, Brady was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
“We don’t know how long he had mono,” ASU head coach Greg Powers said. “He had it, obviously, long before we detected it. It just got to a point where he had no energy on any level, and it was that way for a few weeks in practice.”
Following his diagnosis, Brady flew home to Ontario to recover while the team stayed out on the road. During his six-game absence, DeBrouwer and sophomore Justin Robbins went a combined 1-5 and allowed 37 goals, prompting harsh criticism from Powers.
Brady returned to the team ahead of their exhibition series against the United States National Development Team and was named the starter for both games.
Playing for the first time in six weeks, Brady understandably showed signs of rust, but played better and better as the series progressed. By the end of the second game, Brady had regained his confidence and impressed his coach enough to earn the starting job for the team’s series against Michigan State the following week.
“I felt good going into those exhibition games,” Brady said. “I was on the ice with my goalie coach, Eddie Läck, one-on-one, just hammering away the conditioning and making sure I was up and sharp.”
In his first NCAA action since returning to health, Brady picked up right where he left off in the exhibition games. He backstopped Arizona State to a 3-2 win in the first game against Michigan State and played just as well in the second, though it was not enough to complete the series sweep.
Brady tightened his iron grip on the starting job the following week against Michigan, shutting down the Wolverines’ potent power play and earning Arizona State a 1-1 tie in game two despite being outshot 42-13.
He also shut down any concerns about his conditioning, as he showed no signs of fatigue despite starting six consecutive games and facing at least 30 shots in five of them.
Brady standing tall!
— Sun Devil Hockey (@SunDevilHockey) February 28, 2021
“Ever since he’s been back, he’s shown us exactly what we knew he would become,” Powers said. “He’s barely scratching the surface of how good he can be. The sky’s the limit.”
Brady’s emergence as ASU’s starter gives the Sun Devils stability in net that they have longed for since Joey Daccord left for the NHL in 2019.
As the program looks to return to relevance in 2021-22, Brady’s performance will surely be a key factor in any success that Arizona State might experience. If he can build on his strong finish to this season, that success will come sooner rather than later.