By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
A full 60 minutes wasn’t enough. Neither was an extra five. At this point, players were bent over at the knees, not wasting a second to catch their breath.
But once the final pad save was made in the shootout, Grand Canyon University Men’s Ice Hockey raced out on the ice, dogpiling on their goaltender with a sudden burst of adrenaline, and for good reason.
Daniel Swail’s left-pad save in the fourth round of the shootout allowed the No. 12 Lopes to finally outlast the No. 1 Northern Arizona University IceJacks, taking home a 2-1 victory. Wyatt Grant trickled home the game-winner in the top of the round as his wrist shot squeezed through the pads of the NAU goaltender Joshua Nolan. By American Collegiate Hockey Association rules, the game will officially be recorded as a tie, ending in overtime. But the importance of this result was felt beyond what will count in the standings.
“No matter who we’re playing, we need to play our game,” Head Coach Danny Roy said. “Our game is a top team in the west.”
To even get to the shootout, GCU used their game of defense and physical play against the IceJacks. After a scoreless first period, the tempo ramped up in the second when multiple hits issued from both sides rattled the glass. NAU broke through first with seven minutes remaining in the period as Trey Gonzalez took an Alex Shupe pass from behind the net to give the IceJacks the lead. But GCU’s no-quit attitude paid off three minutes later when Trey Greene found open ice near the post, and put home a clean pass from Nick Marolda to tie the game.
“It’s good to see that we can bounce back after giving up a goal and have a little bit of poise,” Roy said.
Before those goals, each side had chances and near-misses to take control. NAU had three shots ring off the post while GCU’s Jeffrey Payne sent one off the crossbar himself on a power play. The Lopes also had a near 2-on-0 break called back due to offsides halfway into the period. Unlike Friday night’s second period where GCU allowed five NAU goals, the Lopes stayed on the IceJacks’ hip for the entire period, playing to their advantage.
“They came out and put as much as they could on us in the second period, but the difference was we decided to play with them and keep it going,” Roy said. “They wanted to come out and make a statement that the first period was not that close, but our guys came out and answered.”
The third period picked up where the second left off. A parade of penalties from both sides gave each team chances on their respective man advantages, but aggressive penalty kills kept the game knotted at one. As the pace of play progressed, it all came to a head when NAU thought they had the go-ahead goal with under three minutes to play. Lucas Lomax ripped a high shot underneath the crossbar from the right circle, but the referee blew the whistle just before the shot due to the net being moved. Lomax argued, but was ultimately ejected. Cameron Wojnicki for GCU was also ejected on the same play due to taunting.
“You can’t control what the ref is going to call, but that time, the ref helped us out,” Roy said.
Swail’s game-ending save in the shootout was one of many he made to give the Lopes a chance. Swail made a pad save on an Alex Shupe breakaway early in the second period to help kill a GCU penalty. He also stuffed a wraparound opportunity from NAU’s Max Mahood midway in the third period, and shut the door on Mahood again in overtime when the NAU forward got behind the GCU defense for a breakaway. In all, Swail denied 40 of 41 NAU shots.
“They were trying to get anything on net,” Swail said. “My defense too really helped me out a lot, and made it a lot easier for me.”
From here, GCU Men’s Ice Hockey will look to build off this result with four games in four days at the Beehive Showcase in Utah November 16-19. GCU returns to AZ Ice Peoria December 2 and 3 when they take on Weber State University.