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Casola, teamwork pace GCU Women’s Ice Hockey to 2-1 win

GCU Women's Hockey vs. CHEL 3-20-21
March 21, 2021

Lopes’ sophomore fires gamewinner midway through 3rd period to beat CHEL Saturday

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

“Going into the 3rd, we didn’t have to say much. The girls were there. They were dialed in.”

After a 1-0 shutout loss to the same team the night before, and managing just a single goal over the first two periods Saturday, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Hockey team made Faith Casola’s second goal of the night midway through the third period stand up in a 2-1 victory over a team from the College Hockey Elite League at AZ Ice Arcadia in Phoenix. The Lopes’ defense exemplified the words above from Lopes’ Head Coach Natalie Rossi as they held CHEL scoreless over the game’s final 42 minutes to post their first win of the abbreviated 2020-21 season.

Scoring opportunities were few and far between for GCU in Friday’s 1-0 loss to CHEL at Tempe’s Oceanside Ice Arena, and the first eight minutes of Saturday’s first period brought annoying flashbacks to the Lopes’ players. GCU managed just two shots on goal during that time and fell behind quickly as CHEL’s Finn Larson fired the puck past crease traffic and the grasp of GCU goalie Elsa Kurtz just 2:32 into the game to put the Lopes in a 1-0 hole.

It took referees’ whistles late in the first period to wake the Lopes’ offense up. Three penalties – called within just over two minutes of play – left the teams in a four-on-four situation, and the Lopes pounced, peppering CHEL netminder Hallie McClelland with numerous shots. Pinpoint, “one touch” Lopes’ passing from Tuesday Chavez and Arianna Harden finally set up Casola right in front of the net, and the sophomore fired it past McClelland to tie the game up at 1-1 with 2:38 left in the period.

The scoreboard wouldn’t budge for the next 25 minutes of play – despite the Lopes spending the overwhelming majority of the second period fighting off 15 CHEL shots in the Lopes’ zone. Kurtz – one of two freshman goalies on the Lopes’ roster – fought off every CHEL challenge to keep the tie intact. Kurtz wound up with 28 saves.

“A freshman goalie getting her first win. That may be the most exciting part of this,” said Rossi.. “She stood on her head tonight for us, and made some great saves.”

Kurtz’s stinginess was infectious, since the Lopes’ defense held CHEL to just five 3rd-period shots, and allowed the Lopes’ offense to swing the momentum. With 7:40 left, the assist passes of Lopes’ starting forwards Emmie Wahlgren and Megan Daniele created a small window for Casola, who arched a shot over the shoulder of McClelland for the gamewinner.

“Faith had a dry spell to start the season, but I told her to keep bearing down, pop one in, and the goals will just start rolling,” said Rossi. “I’m really excited she got those two goals, since she works hard, and she deserves them. Plus, the players around her took their time with the puck, picked up their heads, and just made great passes.”

The Lopes’ shortened season comes down to one more weekend and one more ‘home-and-home’ series with CHEL. The teams will face off at Oceanside Ice Arena next Friday night, then will finish off the Lopes’ 2021 campaign at AZ Ice Arcadia next Saturday, Mar. 27. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:45 pm, and the team will honor their two seniors, Chavez and Emily Martinho, prior to the opening faceoff.

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