By David Carter/GCU Staff
All that stood between GCU Men’s Ice Hockey and the championship game of the Mountain West Conference Hockey League (MWCHL) Playoffs was the upstart host team, 6th-seeded Utah State University, and a good start to overtime. In the end, the Aggies’ goal 14 seconds into the extra frame sent the Lopes to the consolation game instead of the championship as they upset the top-seeded Lopes, 5-4, Friday night in Logan, Utah. The Lopes bounced back Saturday to take 3rd place in the tournament with a 6-4 win over No. 4 University of Providence in the consolation final.
MWCHL Semifinals: USU 5, GCU 4 (F/OT)
Knowing that Utah State was riding the momentum of a first-round 6-1 upset Thursday night in the tournament opener over No. 3 Montana State, the Lopes jumped out to the lead early Friday night. With 13 minutes remaining in the first period, GCU defenseman Sullivan Murphy scored the first goal of the night on assists from forwards Luke Wilson and Noah Cascio. The Lopes kept the lead until the period’s final minute, when USU fought back to tie it with 35 seconds remaining.
In the second period, Lopes’ forward Matt Tweten broke the 1-1 tie just three minutes into the frame on a goal assisted by defensemen Nick Marolda and Branden Reimann. What would prove to be GCU’s final lead of the night lasted just 14 seconds as the Aggies stormed back on the ensuing face-off to tie, then took the lead with just under seven minutes left in the period to take a 3-2 lead into the third.
The third period was a defensive battle for the first 11 minutes before Lopes’ defenseman Travis Burrow tied it again on a power play goal on assists from forwards Trey Greene and Jeff Payne. Once again, USU had the answer as the Aggies’ Brett Fernandez fired the puck past the shoulder of Lopes’ goalie Michael Barabash into the net with five minutes left in regulation.
Then the Lopes’ last chance to tie popped up late in the game.
“Inside the final two minutes, Utah State had a penalty,” said GCU Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Daniel Roy. “We pulled the goalie out (of the net), giving us a six-on-four advantage and we scored off the opportunity.”
Greene’s first goal of the game with 39 seconds remaining on assists from defenseman Brett Kramer and Tweten sent the game to overtime.
The game was decided just 14 seconds later on a controversial play that netted USU’s Josh Kerkvliet’s 3rd and final goal of the night.
“In the overtime, there was a missed tripping call on Utah State that would have stopped the game,” said Roy. “Play continued, and Utah State scored to win the game.”
Although the Lopes were defeated, Roy was impressed with how GCU competed.
“We played extremely well,” said Roy. “We beat them on all sides of the ice. It was just unfortunate that we came up short in overtime.”
MWCHL Consolation Final: GCU 6, University of Providence 4
“That was a tough game for the guys to get ready for,” said Roy. “It was hard for us to bring the same type of energy and urgency we had against Utah State.”
Fighting the disappointment of missing the opportunity to play for the tournament title, the Lopes and Argos went back and forth for the opening two periods, heading to the 3rd period knotted at 3-3.
“The message for the third was to bring the same type of energy we had against Utah State,” said Roy.
The Lopes responded well. GCU forward Wyatt Grant gave the Lopes the lead for good on a goal assisted by defensemen Andrew Cronin and Greene seven minutes into the period. GCU followed up with an insurance goal scored by Tweten two minutes later. The Argos cut the deficit back to one goal a couple of minutes later, but would not score again, and Greene ended the suspense with a goal with 17 seconds remaining to secure the 6-4 win.
With the conference playoffs over, the Lopes will have to refocus for the American Collegiate Hockey Association DII West Regionals, since it’s “win or go home” when play starts February 28.
“If we do not win the first game we do not make it to the second game,” said Roy. “I told all the guys that is going to be the situation when we go to regionals.”
Two straight wins sends the Lopes to the ACHA D2 National Tournament in Dallas, Texas, beginning March 21. Anything less than that sends the Lopes home for the season. Although the Lopes lost in the conference semifinals this past weekend, the game against USU provided a glimpse of what the Lopes could experience come regionals.
“It was like what you see in a playoff atmosphere,” said Roy. “Their building is really big, and their fans are really loud, so it creates a tough environment to play in.”
Fortunately, the Lopes won’t have to travel back to Utah as they did in 2018, since the ACHA D2 West Regionals will be hosted by Arizona State University on the Sun Devils’ home ice of Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe February 28 to March 2. The Lopes will find out this Wednesday night who their first-round opponent will be.
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