No. 11 Wildcats complete weekend sweep with game-winner in first minute of overtime Saturday
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
The difference of 24 hours was big. Just not quite big enough.
After seeming overmatched at times Friday night in a 5-0 loss to No. 11 University of Arizona, the Grand Canyon University D1 Men’s Hockey team led most of the way in Saturday’s return matchup before succumbing to a power-play goal in overtime to lose, 5-4, in front of a capacity crowd at AZ Ice Arcadia in Phoenix. It was the third loss in as many overtime games for the Lopes this season, and dropped them to an overall mark of 2-4-3.
H2: Saturday: Arizona 5, GCU 4 (F/OT)
It took a whopping 18 seconds for the fans still finding their seats Saturday to figure out the Lopes didn’t resemble the same team from the night before, and it wasn’t just because GCU was back in their customary purple and grey home jerseys. After winning the opening faceoff, the Lopes sprinted to the UA net, and what Declan Carter’s shot from the left side of the goal couldn’t do to get past Wildcats’ goalie Nolan Bivolcic, the follow-up shot from GCU’s Matt Mezik accomplished, whizzing past Bivolcic’s right shoulder to give GCU their first lead of the weekend. The Lopes kept the tempo at their pace most of the first period, but the inability to capitalize on four power-play chances allowed the Wildcats to stay in it, and even tie it at the nine-minute mark to send the two teams into the locker rooms deadlocked at 1-1 after the first period.
The 35 first-period shots on goal combined were evenly distributed, but GCU’s scoring chances became a precious few after that. Nevertheless, of the four shots the Lopes aimed at Bivolcic in the second period, two of them got through.
“Shots may not have showed it, but if you watched (Arizona’s) head coach, he was fired up about our tempo,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Danny Roy. “He was angry because they were struggling to get through the neutral zone and defensive zone, and we were cutting their lanes off. Our guys were seeing that if we stick to our game plan correctly, it works.”
Jeff Payne found a lane through the left side of Arizona’s defense to deposit Sullivan Murphy’s assist into the net to break the tie three minutes into the second period. After the Wildcats found the equalizer six minutes later, GCU’s Joe Aguirre weaved through several ‘Cats to score his first collegiate goal with just under three minutes remaining in the period. The Lopes should have headed into the intermission with the lead, but a defensive lapse with 21 seconds left allowed UA to tie it at 3-3.
That proved significant, since the Wildcats struck first in the third period to take their first lead on Alex Johanson’s wrister with 7:19 left. Yet again, though, the Lopes were forced to be economical with just five shots on goal in the third, and made one stand up. GCU’s Brett Ruiz found Sam Weidenbaum in the right spot to push the puck past Bivolcic again with 6:25 left, and the teams were headed to sudden death.
Just like the Lopes’ opening night when they went to the 3-on-3 extra period with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a 4-4 tie, a Lopes’ penalty opened the door for their opponents when GCU defenseman Sullivan Murphy was whistled for hooking 42 seconds into the extra stanza. The experienced Wildcats made quick work of the advantage, scoring 11 seconds later on Johanson’s second goal of the night to end the game.
The Wildcats (8-1-1 overall) outshot GCU, 31-9, after the first period, yet GCU goalie Chad Duran kept his team tied or ahead most of the night with 45 saves. While Saturday’s final score ultimately was the same as the opening night loss, the positive differences in the performance of the Lopes Saturday as opposed to Sept. 19 were evident to their coach.
“You go back to the UNLV game where we had a 4-0 lead before we lost the game, and if we played like we did tonight back then, we probably don’t even give up a goal,” Roy said. “It’s impressive what our guys have done. I told our guys that U of A is the toughest team we’ve seen, which is good, because it’s going to get even tougher (moving forward).”
H2: Friday: Arizona 5, GCU 0
The events of the first seven minutes dictated much of the direction of the game. Donning special pink jerseys in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Lopes came out aggressive and physical, but paid the price for it 80 seconds after the puck dropped. In the midst of a clash involving several players along the boards, Lopes’ defenseman Travis Burrow turned awkwardly trying to extract himself from the fray, and went down in a heap. The GCU senior remained on the ice for a couple of minutes before heading to the locker room with a lower leg injury that will sideline him for at least a couple of months.
“We had a good start to the game right off the draw, but that freak accident with Travis was tough, since he’s a physical presence,” said Roy. “From there, we didn’t play too bad, but they capitalized on our little mistakes, and we just couldn’t figure out a way to get it by their goalie.”
U of A put their speed to work, receiving goals from Anthony Cusanelli and Vail Ardizzone in the first 6:45 of the game to take a 2-0 lead after one. While the Lopes outshot UA in the first 20 minutes, GCU’s level of desperation grew after Matthew Hohl’s shot three minutes into the second period gave the Wildcats a commanding 3-0 edge. The Lopes’ opportunities dwindled after that, putting just five shots on goal in the third period against UA goalie Anthony Ciurro, who slapped away all 31 shots he saw in the game. GCU goalie Michael Barabash saved 37 shots in the loss.
The tests get much bigger for the first-year Division I Lopes, since they’ll spend the next month on the road, starting next weekend in North Dakota, battling No. 16 University of Jamestown Friday and Saturday night, then finishing up with a Sunday afternoon clash with No. 3 (and defending ACHA DI National Champion) Minot State University.