Aggressive game plan pays off in impressive victory Saturday
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
What speed didn’t take care of Saturday night, a little brawn did.
A dominant combination of speed and muscle powered the 9th-ranked Grand Canyon University Men’s Hockey team to an impressive 4-1 victory over No. 12 Arizona State University Saturday night at AZ Ice Peoria. The win gave the Lopes the upper hand in the two-game series that will conclude Sunday afternoon in Tempe.
While it seemed that the Lopes set the pace of the game throughout the full 60 minutes Saturday night, they didn’t really begin to reap the benefits of it until the 3rd period. From the outset, the Lopes’ offense kept GCU ahead of the Devils on the scoreboard and on shots on goal. In fact, the Lopes recorded the first seven shots of the game, and didn’t allow ASU a shot until the midpoint of the 1st period. However, it wasn’t until the six-minute mark of the 1st before GCU finally broke through when the Lopes’ Matt Tweten helped guide a Noah Cascio shot past ASU goalie Mark Becica to give Grand Canyon a 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to finally awaken the Devils’ offense, though, as they began finding ways into the Lopes’ zone, firing 11 shots at Lopes’ goalie Michael Barabash in the final 10 minutes of the period. It took the first penalty of the game against GCU in the final half-minute of the period to allow ASU the opportunity they needed to tie the game at 1-1 before the break: a Dylan Adams’ power-play goal with just 9 seconds left.
In many ways, the second period mirrored the first as the Lopes’ offense kept the puck in the ASU zone much of the period, yet didn’t produce a score until there was 4:27 left. That’s when the Lopes’ Nick Marolda redirected a Tweten slap shot to give GCU the lead for good at 2-1. Once again, ASU’s offense started producing more chances in the latter half of the period (actually firing an equal amount of shots on goal (11) in the second period as the Lopes), but couldn’t produce a tying goal this time.
Through the first two periods, though, the packed house at AZ Ice Peoria saw a consistent theme that they hadn’t seen to this extent much of the year: an aggressive, physical style from the Lopes that pounded the Devils into the boards with pinpoint efficiency. GCU’s consistent checks on ASU attackers in the first 40 minutes proved extremely valuable in the 3rd period.
“You could just see a lot of their guys just didn’t want to get hit anymore,” said Lopes’ Men’s Hockey Head Coach Danny Roy. “They started dumping the pucks, and you could see their body language was looking for the hit that was coming. That allowed our support guys to sit in lanes and wait for the turnovers.”
What it also allowed was 18 GCU shots on goal in the final stanza, and scoring chances that came easier than in the first two periods. Marolda gave the Lopes an insurance goal 4:19 into the 3rd when he deftly weaved his way through three ASU defenders, and slipped the puck past Becica for a 3-1 GCU lead. This time, the Devils’ offense had few answers, and by the time GCU’s Cameron Wojnicki put the game out of reach with his 6th goal of the season with just under 2 minutes left, the Devils (12-15 overall) were ready to look toward Game 2 Sunday. The Lopes (13-14-3 overall) outshot the Sun Devils, 42-32, for the game, but GCU’s shot selection made the gap seem wider than that.
“Everybody bought in,” said Barabash, who stopped 31 ASU shots on the evening. “We were blocking shots, getting in lanes, (showing) great sticks, and moving the puck really well on the breakout. It got progressively better the whole night.” The aggressive play was still very clean, though, since there were just four penalties called for the entire game (2 on each team).
The hardest part may lie ahead for GCU Sunday, and not just because they’ll have to go for the sweep on ASU’s home ice. Going into this weekend, the Lopes’ last three wins over nationally ranked opponents hadn’t given them enough momentum to win again the night after that. The Lopes talked at length about that fact before Saturday’s game, and were still talking about it afterwards. “(After a) few of our big wins, the next night, we came out a little sloppy,” said Roy. “It’s time for us to make sure that even though we got a big win, it’s a different day the next day, and I think we’re all on the same page about that.”
Their chance to sweep the Devils happens when the puck drops at 12:40 pm Sunday afternoon at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe.