By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
The challenge already existed before the game, and it didn’t get any easier throughout the afternoon for Grand Canyon University Men’s Ice Hockey.
The Lopes did what they could to fight back from a 4-0 deficit, but the Tetons of Williston State College held off any and all comeback attempts, winning 8-5, and ending the season for the Lopes.
From the start, it was clear what GCU was up against. The Tetons were able to capitalize on two missed clearing attempts in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Lopes’ Head Coach Danny Roy thought a good amount of compete was present early on, but the two goals took away the good feelings. That continued within the first five minutes of the second where the Tetons scored twice more – once shorthanded – to up their lead to 4-0.
Sensing the game was getting away, Roy then immediately called a timeout.
“You worry about guys feeling like their egos are bruised a little bit and letting down because they’re scoring easily,” Roy said. “It was a timeout to just regroup and make something happen.”
With the Lopes still on the power play, the timeout seemed to work as needed. Not even 30 seconds later, GCU’s Matt Tweten received a pass from Brett Kramer and skated in front for the first Lopes’ goal. GCU was able to set up their power-play unit and cleanly cycle the puck from point to point, putting much-needed life into the bench.
Minutes later, though, Williston quickly got the goal back. WSC’s Andy Williams won a faceoff in the Lopes’ zone and pushed his way toward the net for a 5-1 lead. Down by four again, the Lopes restarted their comeback attempt as Trey Greene jumped on a WSC turnover in their own zone to make it 5-2.
And yet, the Tetons would gain the goal right back four minutes after. The Lopes were on a 3-on-2 break shorthanded, but a mishandled shot allowed the Tetons to break the other way 2-on-1. Ryan Gruszka softly gave it up to Nikita Zgirskis who slid it past Lopes’ goalie Michael Barabash on the backhand for a power play goal, making it 6-2 after two periods.
“I told the team in the locker room that if they wanted to end their season in a respectful way, it was up to them,” Roy said.
A pep talk from the coaching staff and the players themselves gave the Lopes a boost for a final push in the third period. Sullivan Murphy got the scoring started with a power play goal four minutes in, but the Tetons again answered under two minutes later.
GCU would not quit. Seconds later off the faceoff, Trey Greene tracked down his tipped shot toward the net with help from Wyatt Grant to make it 7-4. It would remain that way for several minutes until Tweten found Grant wide open in the slot behind the defense for a goal with five minutes remaining.
However, that would be the closest GCU would get. Barabash was pulled for an extra attacker in the last two minutes, but the Tetons buried an empty-netter for the 8-5 win.
“The fight was there, but it just has to be there for the whole game, and not just when we have to have it,” Roy said. “But it’s nice to know and see the guys not giving up there in the end. We’ve given ourselves chances in the games we’re losing in, so it’s good to see there is that compete.”
It’s now onto the offseason where the Lopes have much to look forward to. The recruiting trail will begin to heat up soon, but with long months ahead, a deserved break is in store.
“There’s a lot of work to do and pieces to add to fine-tune in certain areas, but it’ll be nice to take a couple weeks off and kind of just forget about hockey for a little bit,” said Roy.