15th-ranked Wildcats blow open close game with four-goal 3rd period in GCU’s home finale
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
Five-goal losses normally don’t yield postgame words of satisfaction from the mouths of hockey head coaches. Saturday’s 6-1 defeat of the Grand Canyon University Men’s Hockey team in the team’s home finale wasn’t your typical loss, though.
No one wanted the Lopes to post an upset win over the University of Arizona more than Lopes’ Men’s Hockey Head Coach Danny Roy, but after watching the furious pace of the 15th-ranked Wildcats eventually wear down his team in the 3rd period of their matchup Saturday night at AZ Ice Peoria, Roy still had a lot of praise to hand down to his squad.
“The first half of each of the first two periods was ours, and then the momentum swayed as the period went on and (our) guys’ legs started getting tired,” said Roy with a slight smile. “But our goal was to keep the game close, and we did that.”
To hear the head coach of a Lopes’ team that’s been ranked 9th in the ACHA Division II West Poll for over a month not automatically expect a win might seem short-sighted to some Lopes’ fans. That is, until it’s pointed out that Arizona has distinct advantages over the Lopes in experience (GCU’s program is in its second year; UA in its 39th), reputation (Arizona is a perennial in the ACHA Poll on the Division 1 level) and age (most of GCU’s roster are underclassmen; most of UA’s players are in their early-to-mid-20’s). The ‘Cats may also be the fastest team GCU has seen this year and showed it for all 60 minutes Saturday night.
None of that, though, has deterred the Lopes in any of their four matchups with U of A this season, since GCU entered Saturday trying to salvage a split of the season series. It was clear from the outset of Saturday’s game, though, that a GCU win would only come with one of their best defensive efforts near the goal this season. For the first 46 minutes of the game, the Lopes provided that-especially from freshman goalie Daniel Swail, who stopped 35 of UA’s 37 shots on goal in the first two periods in just his 13th game of the year.
The two teams showed the fans a frantic pace throughout the 1st period, yet it took a beautiful assist pass from UA’s Orion Olsen from behind the GCU net to set up Justin Dungey’s goal to avoid a scoreless period. The Lopes’ inability to clear the puck out of their zone in the first 90 seconds of the 2nd period help double Arizona’s lead with a Trey Decker shot in front of the goal. The 2-0 deficit finally got the Lopes’ offense moving, and just 79 seconds later, patience by the Lopes’ newest member, John Carboun, paid off as he waited a couple of extra seconds in front of the net to find the right gap to slap it through. The Lopes nearly went into the 2nd intermission tied at 2-2, but a 2-on-1 break in the final seconds of the period by GCU failed to produce a score.
That would unfortunately prove to be the Lopes’ best scoring opportunity over the final 21 minutes as the Wildcats’ speed took over in the 3rd, pouncing on a tiring GCU defense. The Lopes weren’t deterred after Arizona opened up a 3-1 lead with a Keelan Ulnick goal right after a dual penalty just five minutes into the period. But, in Roy’s own words, “the wind came out of our sails” once UA’s Jake Dickison’s shot ricocheted off the side of the GCU goal past Swail into the net with 9:13 left; and Dungey’s second goal of the night would happen just 40 seconds later. Josh Larson would finish off the scoring for Arizona (22-9-1 overall) with a goal with 3:26 left. Still, despite being outshot on the night, 50-29, the Lopes (16-18-3 overall) walked into the postgame locker room knowing they’d proven some things.
“(Arizona’s) an older group, and they’re big, but our guys made the physical battles go our way,” mused Roy. “If we play like that against a lot of the teams we’re going to face in regionals, we can beat anybody.”
They’ll get that chance when the ACHA West Regionals commence February 22 in Ogden, Utah. They’ll find out where they’re seeded for the tournament, and who their first-round opponent is this Wednesday, and know that four more wins puts them in the record books as the first GCU Ice Hockey team ever to punch their ticket for the national tournament in mid-March.
“It’s a matter of how bad we want it,” said Roy. “The guys want to go to nationals. It’s just at that point now where it’s time to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.”