By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
For all the firsts Grand Canyon University Men’s Ice Hockey has completed this season, this one can be considered the biggest.
In just its second year, the Lopes are off to the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II West Regional Tournament for the first time as they finished at No. 9 in the final ranking. GCU will take on No. 12 Brigham Young University on Thursday, February 22, at 4pm in one of two ‘play-in’ games. The other game will feature No. 10 Boise State against No. 11 Weber State.
“It was the goal all along to make the regional tournament,” Lopes’ Head Coach Danny Roy said. “It was good to finally solidify that. I told the team at practice that they are now the first team in the program history to make a regional tournament, so it’s nice to have that.”
The top two teams in the region – No. 1 Northern Arizona University and No. 2 Utah State University – received an automatic bid to the National Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, to be played March 9-13. Teams ranked 3-12 will vie for the final two spots from the west. Due to the play-in matchup for teams ranked 9-12, the Lopes will have to win three games in three days to gain one of the two spots. If GCU were to win their opener, they will take on No. 4 Williston State on Friday the 23rd at 4 pm as the second-lowest remaining seed.
This year’s tournament is played in Ogden, Utah and being hosted by Weber State University.
Scouting the Cougars
The University of North Texas was originally GCU’s opponent as the No. 12 seed, but due to various outside factors, the Mean Green backed out, allowing BYU to accept the invitation.
The Cougars ended the regular season ranked No. 13 in the west with a record of 11-12-3. BYU is led by Tate Cowley with 21 goals, and Ben Gantt with 33 assists. They made it to the Mountain West Collegiate Hockey League Championship game against Utah State University, but lost 6-1.
GCU and BYU are no strangers, since they have already played twice this season, splitting the two matchups. The Lopes won, 3-2, in overtime on October 19, while BYU returned the favor, 6-4, at the Beehive Showcase on November 16.
In the first game, GCU held a 2-1 lead in the third period before BYU scored a late goal to send the game to overtime. Jeffrey Payne ultimately netted the game-winner three minutes into the extra frame. In the second matchup, the Lopes led, 4-1, halfway into the second period, but the Cougars responded with five unanswered goals for the win.
“It’s a learning experience that we should know going into this tournament, [BYU] is a team that we’ve had the lead against and we allowed them to come back on us twice,” Roy said. “We know we outmatch them in certain areas of the game, but they’re coming into this tournament with momentum, knowing they can upset some big teams.”
Even with this late change in opponents, nothing has changed in practice. Roy knows it will still take a full team effort, and has emphasized “compete and determination” in practice, something Roy explained they saw a lot of in their last game against University of Arizona. In this win-or-go-home format, those battles for the puck will be key in ultimately deciding the winner.
“The idea is to get a fighting instinct of creating our own space if someone is challenging us to take the puck,” Roy said. “In a playoff-like atmosphere, if you take one second off and take a breather, it can be the difference between a win and a loss.”
All of the ACHA DII West Regional matchups can be found below:
|Thursday, February 22:|
|4pm: No. 9 GCU vs. No. 12 BYU
|7pm: No. 10 BSU vs. No. 11 WSU|
|Friday, February 23:|
|10am: No. 5 Denver vs. No. 8 Colorado|
|1pm: No. 6 Dakota College vs. No. 7 Metro State|
|4pm: No. 4 Williston State vs. 2nd lowest remaining seed|
|7pm: No. 3 Northern Colorado vs. Lowest remaining seed|
|Saturday, February 24:|
|4pm: Highest seed vs. Lowest seed|
|7pm: 2nd highest seed vs. 2nd lowest seed|
Story was updated on February 20 to reflect the change in opponent.