By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
The schedule has been finalized. Selection and main camp is over. Rosters have been set. There is now only one thing left to do.
Drop the puck.
This Friday, the 2018-19 season will commence for Grand Canyon University Men’s Ice Hockey. It won’t be an easy start as the Lopes will step directly into the gauntlet of a pair of American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I powers. The Lopes head across town to face Arizona State University twice this weekend, then host the University of Arizona September 22 at GCU’s new home ice, AZ Ice Arcadia.
For this week, the Lopes have a short turnaround after last week’s camp of only three full practices together as a team. As of now, forward lines and defensive pairings are yet to be decided, but Lopes’ Head Coach Danny Roy is nonetheless eager to get the season started.
“We have definitely improved, which is our goal each year,” Roy said. “Just can’t wait for our first game now.”
This year’s Team 1 roster totals 30 players – 19 forwards, eight defenseman and three goaltenders – with 14 of which being first-year players. The squad is highlighted by the return of last year’s top goal scorers in sophomore defenseman Nick Marolda, sophomore forward Noah Cascio, junior defenseman Brett Kramer and sophomore forward Jeffrey Payne. As well, sophomore goalie Michael Barabash returns to man the crease, but will have strong backup from the likes of junior Michael Norris and freshman Gabriel Lepper.
“Each year we want to have a good returning group, and it’s continually grown each year,” Roy said. “You can see the three-year guys have a little more knowledge on what to expect, and our two-year guys can take their freshman experience and change what they lacked from last year. Overall, we have a group that has a ton of potential from top to bottom.”
The captaincy on the team will be a group of eight returners, with Kramer wearing the ‘C’ for the third straight year.
“These are all returning captains, so they know what it’s like being on the team,” Kramer said. “We all know the culture, and how to compete for every spot on the team. The fact that we have even more players on the team this year means we have to compete even more.”
With the top goal scorers from last year returning, and first-year players who have shown a knack for putting the puck into the net, Roy sees his offense as the biggest strength. Still, the third-year coach sees more than just skill that can take the Lopes to the next level.
“We have some size up front, and also some who have hockey smarts,” Roy said. “We also have players who are just purebred hockey players; not flashy, but they have put up some numbers in the past from where they are from, and you can tell why.”
On the defensive side, the blue line will be much improved. Along with Kramer and Marolda, junior Travis Burrow and sophomore Sullivan Murphy will return to lead the defense, while freshmen Steven Spencer, Drew Cronin, Collin Marx and Kevin Dunton adds to the revamped unit.
“Last year we had good defense, but this year is going to be better because we have more guys, so we can run deep and through all three, four lines,” Kramer said.
Schedule and Expectations
Roy has stated before that the expectations for this season will be to earn a bid to nationals. In order to get there, the Lopes will have to go through a stacked schedule that includes matchups with last year’s nationals participants Northern Arizona University, University of Denver, University of Northern Colorado and Utah State University. Also, the Lopes will travel to Las Vegas in late October for what could be their toughest test of the year against ACHA DI University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Even with a loaded slate, and knowing how much the program has developed over the last two years, Roy sees no reason to change those expectations.
There may just be a little more added optimism for what lies ahead.
“It’s a realistic goal for us to make nationals,” Roy said. “When you climb the ladder, and you put the amount of work that we have put into the program, each season you should strive for something better.”
The players themselves feel the same season outlook.
“Nationals is always the end goal,” Kramer said. “We want to prove to everyone that just because we’re a third-year team, we’re not something to take lightly. Last year, we proved that we can beat some of the top teams, and we want to do that again this year.”
The Lopes open the season this weekend with a Friday night game at 7:30 pm, and Saturday night at 6:30 pm against Arizona State’s ACHA DI team at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe. GCU’s home opener is Saturday, September 22 at 6:30 pm at AZ Ice Arcadia, which is located at 38th Street and Thomas Road (in the building just behind the Sprint store).