GCU Men’s Ice Hockey Make Progress for Playoffs at Big Mountain Classic
By David Carter/GCU Staff
That was the key takeaway for the Division II ACHA GCU Men’s Ice Hockey team as they left Colorado after splitting four games against four ranked teams at the Big Mountain Classic this weekend. The Lopes began the weekend with a pair of close losses to No. 14 University of Denver and No. 2 University of Northern Colorado, then bounced back with important victories over No. 4 Boise State University and No. 18 Utah State University.
“It was a good effort against a tough schedule,” said Lopes Head Coach Daniel Roy. “Being able to take the auto bid spot is in our grasp.”
That ‘auto (short for automatic) bid’ would allow the Lopes to bypass the ACHA West Regionals and go straight to the ACHA Men’s Division II National Tournament.
It’s a goal that the Lopes constantly have had their eyes on.
Thursday: Denver 3, GCU 1; Friday: Northern Colorado 6, GCU 5
Thursday’s opener saw the Lopes jump out first, but wear out down the stretch against Denver. GCU sophomore forward Jeffery Payne scored an unassisted goal at 7:59 of the first period to give the Lopes a 1-0 lead, but then saw DU take control of the game. The Pioneers scored three minutes to tie it at 1-1, where it would stay until the third period. The Pioneers’ David Waterman gave DU the lead for good just three minutes into the period, and Ryan Gandy’s goal with just over three minutes left put the game out of reach.
While the third period was GCU’s downfall in the first game, it was Northern Colorado’s 2nd-period performance Friday that doomed the Lopes to their second straight loss. The Lopes never led, but tied the game twice in the first 22 minutes. After UNC took an early 1-0 lead, the Lopes came back with just over seven minutes left in the first period on a power play goal scored by Declan Carter and assisted by forwards Wyatt Grant and Zach Bennett. UNC took the lead back just before the end of the period, but GCU jumped out quickly in the second to tie it at 2-2 thanks to Rich Bohan’s goal on a pass from Jeff Payne. The UNC offense took over from there, scoring four goals in the last 10 minutes of the frame to take control.
The Lopes fought back in the third with a late flurry. Bennett scored with seven minutes left, then Bohan set up junior forward Matt Tweten not once, but twice for goals in the final six minutes before the rally fell short.
Saturday: GCU 5, Boise State 2; Sunday: GCU 5, Utah State 3
“We got better as the weekend progressed. Hopefully, it shows that we are finding something.”
On Saturday and Saturday, the Lopes discovered what Roy’s quote meant, and that was improved defense.
The Lopes’ defense reduced the 76 combined shots on goal allowed Thursday and Friday by nearly a third, giving up 54 shots total to Boise State and Utah State. It took the pressure off GCU goalkeeper Michael Barabash (who played every minute of the weekend in goal), allowing him to improve his save percentage.
With this improved focus on defense, GCU never trailed in the final two games. The Lopes broke out to a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes against BSU (on goals from Trey Greene and Wyatt Grant), and never looked back. Greene and Grant would both score again as GCU put the game out of reach with three goals in a ten-minute span late in the 2nd and early in the 3rd to complete the upset.
The Lopes finished the tournament by holding off numerous USU rallies Sunday afternoon. Bohan’s 2nd goal of the weekend extended the Lopes’ lead to 3-1 early in the 3rd period. Each time the Aggies responded with a goal to come within one, the Lopes would answer less than two minutes later, and Payne’s goal with 3:30 left iced the 5-3 victory.
Lopes’ Division III team drops pair to New Mexico
The No. 16 GCU Men’s Division III team was also on the road, dropping a pair to a red-hot No. 12 University of New Mexico squad in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Friday and Saturday night.
The Lobos – who came into the weekend having lost just once since November – overpowered the Lopes with an eight-goal 2nd period Friday to win, 11-3; then used a five-goal 1st period Saturday to down GCU, 8-2, and complete the four-game sweep of the regular season series between the two teams.
Neither the Lopes’ Division II or III teams have long to rest, since they’ll each play against the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Lumberjacks’ DII & DIII teams in home-and-home series this coming weekend.
“The goal is to try to sweep the weekend and set ourselves up for the best ranking possible for the playoffs,” said Roy. “Northern Arizona University is in that 2nd “auto bid” spot, and with two games remaining against them, we have a good chance to move up.”
GCU’s Division II and III squads will take turns playing in their home arena and in Flagstaff. GCU Division II will head up to Flagstaff to take on NAU Division II at Jay Lively Activity Center on Friday, January 25 at 8:30 pm, then return to Phoenix for their final home game of the season at AZ Ice Arcadia (38th Street & Thomas) at 6:30 pm on Saturday, January 26.
Division III will have their home matchup at AZ Ice Arcadia this Friday, January 25 at 6:30 pm, then head to Flagstaff to play NAU on Saturday, January 26 at 8:15 pm.
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