Six-goal period helps No. 9 Lopes sink Washington State, 9-5
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
The price of success was almost too much to handle for the 9th-ranked Grand Canyon University Men’s Hockey team Sunday. While the scoreboard at AZ Ice Peoria looked impressively one-sided at the end of the Lopes’ 9-5 victory over Washington State University Sunday afternoon, the fans wearing Lopes’ purple walked out of the arena knowing that the Lopes got a much tougher struggle from the winless Cougars than anyone expected.
As Lopes’ Men’s Hockey Head Coach Danny Roy pointed out after the game, the struggles Sunday started from within. Just 15 hours prior to the start of Sunday’s game, the Lopes had skated off the ice in Flagstaff ecstatic winners of a 5-2 upset of the top-ranked team in the ACHA D2 West Poll, Northern Arizona, their most important win of the season. Yet, after two periods against 0-9-1 WSU Sunday, they were mired in a 3-3 dogfight, underachieving on the ice, and hearing a hard lesson from their head coach in the locker room.
“The message was simple,” said Roy. “Grow up, or get off the team. We’re going to do it with or without you. We’d rather do it with you, but we’re not going to deal with the negativity and distractions. From that point, it seemed like everyone shut their mouths, and supported guys, and it immediately started showing on the scoreboard.”
Going into the game, Roy’s game plan was to play as many of his players as possible, and by the time five minutes had elapsed, the Cougars’ starters had already faced three shifts of GCU players. The Lopes’ offense controlled the pace of the first period, but it took a string of nine straight shots on goal before the Lopes finally broke through with 4:40 left in the frame. GCU’s Brett Kramer used a corridor of players clogging the slot and shielding WSU goalie William Garrard to slap the first goal of the game home. The assist went to the Lopes’ Marvin Simmons, whose main contribution of the goal was hopping out of the way of the shot to allow it to get to the net. The undermanned Cougars-who used just 12 players all afternoon long-took advantage of a Lopes’ penalty to get even two minutes later as WSU’s Aiden Middlesworth found Nick Torres with a pass in front that Torres put past GCU goalie Travis Green, who was playing his first game of the season in goal. The Cougars’ celebration was shockingly quick, though, since the Lopes took the lead back just nine seconds later as Luke Wilson broke away from the ensuing faceoff, and slapped it home to give GCU a 2-1 lead after one period.
The goal seemed too easy, and if it went to the Lopes’ players’ heads, they found out why it shouldn’t have in the second period. The Cougars again used the power play to get even, with Torres and Middlesworth again combining for a goal to tie the game at 2 six minutes into the period. If Lopes’ fans were a bit concerned then, they became even more worried when Washington State took the lead four minutes later on an Alex Schneider goal. The Lopes struggled to get out of first gear much of the rest of the period, needing a Zach Nasternak breakaway goal with 1:49 left in the period to tie it going into the 3rd period.
After the Roy tongue-lashing at the break, a “refreshed” GCU team came out of the locker room for the 3rd period and quickly restored order. Simmons broke the 3-3 tie just 1:16 into the 3rd with a power play goal with help from Jeffrey Payne, and the barrage was on. Within the next six minutes, goals from Payne, Nick Marolda, Sullivan Murphy and Simmons again suddenly showed the speed and depth advantages GCU brought to the matchup, and the suspense about the outcome was gone. GCU’s 61st and final shot on goal of the night produced Marolda’s 16th goal of the season to close out the scoring. Simmons and Marolda’s 2 goals each paced the Lopes, while Simmons also contributed a pair of assists for the Lopes (15-16-3).
The Lopes’ offensive show overshadowed the performance in goal by Green, who overcame the initial butterflies to swat away 40 of the 45 Cougars’ shots on the day.
“I was a little nervous,” said Green. “It was a pretty close game-closer than we thought it would be. (The GCU goals early in the 3rd period) gave me a little breather, but they were right with us, so I had to stay focused.”
“He’s a team guy,” said Roy. “Comes to practice, works hard, even when he knows he’s not going to play. Even when I told him three days before today, he kept questioning me whether I was serious he was going to play. 45 shots against him is not an easy night-especially the type of shots they were-so he really earned this win.”
In fact, even though he didn’t play Saturday in the win over NAU, Sunday’s win was still the team paying Green back. “He ran the locker room for us (Saturday) night,” said Roy. “We gave him the opportunity to go into the locker room, talk to the guys before the 1st period, and get them going, and it worked. The message (today to the players) was, ‘He got you guys going last night, so come around, rally up, and get him a win.”
Sunday was the Lopes’ final home matchup before the Mountain West Collegiate Hockey League Playoffs begin Thursday for the Lopes in Provo, Utah. The Lopes will play 13th-ranked Weber State University-a team they’ve swept in all three matchups during the regular season-to start the postseason. The puck drops at 5 pm Thursday.