Lopes bounce back from OT loss Saturday with gritty 3-1 win Sunday afternoon
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
When extra speed doesn’t work, try the gritty route.
After not trailing until the final goal in a back-and-forth 4-3 overtime loss to No. 11 University of Colorado Saturday afternoon, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Hockey team gutted out a defensive-minded, 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon over the Buffaloes at AZ Ice Arcadia in Phoenix. The win was the Lopes’ first victory over a ranked opponent this season, and spoiled the Buffs’ bid to go 4-0 on an Arizona road trip that saw them sweep Arizona State University in two games.
“We talked all week about the mental game and making sure we were able to play our style of game,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Natalie Rossi. “It’s easy to go into a game like Sunday feeling nervous, but we talked about being the underdog and how that’s a fun spot to be in. For us to go in, work our butts off and play a strong mental game, that’s really telling about this group.”
Sunday: GCU 3, Colorado 1
The hangover of Saturday’s torrid pace was evident from the outset, since both teams’ offenses spent a scoreless first period stuck in first gear, and each team accounted for just five shots on goal. The second period wasn’t much better, but the Buffaloes (14-7 overall) finally broke through with six minutes left on a power-play goal by Sasha Maslowski.
“That how it goes sometimes with our team,” said Lopes’ freshman forward Annabelle Koethe. “It takes a couple of periods for us to get kicked into gear, which comes with trusting each other to get a little more focus.”
The Lopes seemed resigned to head to the second intermission down a goal until a scoring opportunity fell into Kylie Kramer’s lap in front of the net in the final minute of the period, and the Lopes’ lone senior pounced on it with a scoring slap-shot to tie the game.
“Kylie’s goal reminded us that we could play with this team, and the goal of beating them wasn’t that far away,” said Rossi. “This is a mentally resilient group, and when there’s a chance, they go.”
The goal gave the Lopes new life, and they showed it with 14 shots on goal in the third period – more than the first two periods combined. It also allowed Koethe to get an extra spring in her step, which she used to break the tie with 12 minutes left on a nice assist pass from Kramer. Things then unraveled for the visitors as Buffs’ Head Coach Kevin Dessart was given a game misconduct and ejected with 5:44 left, and the team seemed to lose its energy from there. Koethe took advantage of it with one last goal to ice things with just under three minutes left (on assists from Faith Casola and Tuesday Chavez).
“We really, really wanted it today,” Koethe said. “We’ve been patient for a really long time, working hard in practice and games, and today, that patience paid off.”
The Lopes (4-10 overall) outshot CU, 26-22. It was the ninth consecutive game that GCU had either outshot or tied their opponents in shots on goal. Koethe had three goals in the two games, and Casola added three assists. Lopes’ goalie Grace Huegler’s bounceback performance Sunday gave her 53 saves for the weekend.
“It’s amazing to see them get rewarded for buying into our system, and see how excited they get when they score,” said Rossi. “We didn’t have a ton of ‘clean’ scoring opportunities today, but we made the ones we had count.”
Saturday: Colorado 4, GCU 3 (F/OT)
The Lopes came into the weekend with a full two weeks off to get rusty, while the Buffs came into Saturday’s game with the possibility of fatigue, having played in Tempe Friday night. Neither was evident in a frenetic first period that saw 13 shots on goal for each team. The Lopes lit the lamp just 67 seconds into the game thanks to Casola setting up Rian Braun with a loose puck in front of the CU net. The Buffs responded four minutes later when CU’s Sydney Browne literally went straight from the penalty box (after serving a tripping penalty) to the end of a centering pass and deposited it into the net to tie the game. GCU took a 2-1 lead into the break when Cassidy Niemi slapped a deflection off the glove of CU goalie Lexi Hartmann back past her into the net.
The pace slowed in the second period – thanks to six combined penalties that set up four-on-four hockey twice during the frame. The lone goal of the period came on a beautiful setup pass from Colorado’s Sara McNamara behind the net to a charging Casey Nunnelly to knot the game at 2-2.
Koethe’s first goal of the weekend just two minutes into the third period broke the tie, but the Lopes’ offense stalled after that, which allowed Nunnelly’s second goal of the game with just under six minutes left in regulation to send the game to overtime. Despite recording just two shots on goal in the extra period, the Buffs’ Julia Dessart used the second to end the game with an unassisted goal past Huegler with 90 seconds left.
Each team fired 36 shots on goal for the game.
The Lopes’ 2019-20 regular season schedule now comes down to a single home game this Saturday, Feb. 15 at AZ Ice Arcadia. GCU will host the archrival ASU Sun Devils in a 7 pm puck drop, and Kramer will be honored before the game with Senior Night festivities. General admission tickets are $5 at the door, but kids, GCU students and faculty (with ID) get in free.