By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
It turned into a tough weekend for Grand Canyon University Women’s Ice Hockey, but as has happened all season, Lopes’ Head Coach Natalie Rossi still found positives for the growing program.
GCU traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota in their longest road trip of the year to take on the No. 5 University of Minnesota Gophers, and were swept, 5-0 and 8-0, in the two games. Playing their fourth top-10 opponent this season, the Lopes were met with another stiff challenge, but Rossi saw excitement from her team to finally get back on the ice after a month and a half between games.
“We have a bunch of positive players,” Rossi said. “Although they don’t like losing, they understand the value in what we’re doing and how we’re continually progressing toward the future.”
The value of “small wins” has been preached all season. At Minnesota, Rossi broke Saturday’s matchup into three games. In the 5-0 loss, GCU allowed two goals in the first and second periods, and just one in the third. They took only one penalty in the game, which they promptly killed off. GCU’s Haylee Gannaway also stood strong in net and saved 50 of 55 Minnesota shots.
Sunday afternoon, the trend continued. GCU allowed two goals in the first period and only one in the second before the Gophers broke through with five in the final frame. Yet for playing another top-ranked opponent, Rossi was pleased with how her team performed.
“They came in with the thought process that our third period on Saturday was the best period yet, and now we have to make that period all three periods,” Rossi said. “We played five great periods of hockey this weekend, and you can’t be mad about that as a coach against that good of a team.”
In hockey-rich Minnesota, the Lopes found a benefit in playing in the so-called “State of Hockey.” The Lopes played in Ridder Arena where Minnesota’s Women’s NCAA Ice Hockey Program hangs seven national championship banners. They were able to take in a game during the weekend while the Gophers played in front of a packed house.
The trip was also a homecoming for three GCU players. Jenna Kimbrel played in nearby Minnetonka, while Rebecca Sanda and Kelly Walby both played in White Bear Lake, 30 minutes from the heart of Minneapolis. The trip allowed many family and friends to come out to the games, and even gave the team a chance to have dinner at the families’ homes.
“They were all excited about coming out to Minnesota,” Rossi said. “We had been talking a lot about how we’re taking steps and making history to grow hockey in Arizona – especially women’s hockey. So, them coming out here to see that environment and recognize that we’re building this future is huge.”
GCU now has one game remaining on the season: next Sunday, February 4 against the University of Denver at AZ Ice Peoria. The Pioneers previously beat the Lopes, 4-1, at the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League Showcase in November. With this being the final game of the inaugural season, Rossi is looking forward to avenging the loss and ending the year on a high note.
“The offensive zone time that we’ve been working on will really lend itself to playing against Denver,” Rossi said. “We don’t want to lose to them again.”