By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
For the last three weeks, all Grand Canyon University Women’s Ice Hockey has been seeing are each other – practicing and training with one another in preparation for the upcoming season.
This coming weekend, that will all change as the Lopes will face off in their season (and home) opener against the Arizona State University Sun Devils. Last season, the Lopes wound up winning just once in 19 games – the lone win coming against ASU at the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League Showcase. For some, a season like that may be hard to come back from, but there is already growing enthusiasm around this year’s team.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since my other season ended,” freshman forward Lauren Welsch said. “I’ve been practicing, shooting in my garage, so I, and we all, are really excited to get back on the ice again.”
A big difference from last season to this season is the size of the roster. The Lopes finished their inaugural season with 18 players. Coming into this year, they will have a full roster of 26 players. Fifteen forwards, nine defenseman and two goalies make up the depth that will be a major factor in sustaining success throughout the season.
The top two goal scorers from last season – senior forward Hanna Joralmon (4) and sophomore forward Emily Exner (3) – will return. As well, starting goaltender junior Haylee Gannaway will be back to give the Lopes experience in net. There will also be 16 new players from last season, all of whom add needed skill to their respective positions.
“Haylee is a standup goaltender, and we have three very strong forward lines this year, but we’ll be able to have all four lines play in a game,” Lopes Head Coach Natalie Rossi said. “It will be really nice to have that depth.”
Strengths and Expectations
Of all that the team has seen as improvements from last season, the defensive side of the puck will be the largest upgrade. Just five defenseman were listed on last season’s final roster. This year, of the nine defenseman on the team, six are freshmen.
“Our defensive corps is deep,” Rossi said. “The fact that we’re able to practice straightaway and start working on team concepts as soon as we got onto the ice is a big improvement. Last year, we had to start working on a lot of skill stuff before we started on team concepts.”
For many outside viewers, the expectations for this season will be small, but GCU knows exactly who they are. They’ve had three weeks of practice and workouts as a team, so there has been plenty of time to connect and get better on the ice.
Starting Friday at 6:30 pm at AZ Ice Arcadia (38th Street and Thomas Road in Phoenix (right behind the Sprint Store)), the Lopes will be able to bring it all together, beginning with their in-state rivals. Another tough schedule will greet the Lopes for the 2018-19 season, but all the returners and incoming freshman have been ready to exceed any and all expectations.
“The strength is our team chemistry and communication,” junior defenseman Kylie Kramer said. “It’s leaps and bounds (ahead of) last year. Bringing the intensity and being first to the puck at all times will be huge against ASU.”