By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
It’s been a whirlwind year for Grand Canyon University Women’s Ice Hockey. What started as an idea in 2016 turned into reality in 2017. From the hiring of the first head coach, to the signing of the first players, to the beginning of the first faceoff, the Lopes have made history.
Using wins and losses to define success is foolish at best. With not even 600 females a part of USA Hockey across Arizona, simply starting a women’s hockey program is significant. The overall record may not show it, but the Lopes have achieved more than any record can illustrate. For its first-ever season, the Lopes were accepted as a Division I team in May. Even before then, GCU hired its first head coach in Natalie Rossi.
From that point forward, it was constant work to put together the inaugural roster. Rossi has stated the biggest accomplishment was simply getting the team off the ground. But now that the team is well past the point of congratulations, establishing the culture on and off the ice is the No. 1 goal.
“We’re building toward the future and the girls understand that,” Rossi said. “They know what kind of team they are, and know that it’s more about getting better for the future.”
All the planning and preparation came together when GCU opened up their inaugural season, September 22, with a 1-1 tie against Arizona State. Emily Exner scored the first-ever goal in program history to tie the game late in the third period. Victories, even goals, would be hard to come by in the games to follow. Hard work paid off, though, when the Lopes defeated ASU, 1-0, to earn their first-ever victory at the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League Showcase November 5.
“I’m just really proud of how much we have grown,” Rossi said. “Looking back on our first game to now, it has been such a big improvement.”
Off the ice, the team has shown community involvement to be an integral part of the program. The Lopes have volunteered at Feed My Starving Children and Feed Our Babies USA; collected canned goods for the Desert Mission Food Bank; and have continued to grow the game of women’s hockey by taking part in World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in October.
“Having the girls come together and seeing them grow as players and people has been amazing,” Rossi said.
The work is not done yet, however. GCU is currently on winter break and won’t return to the ice until January with games against No. 5 University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, January 27 and 28. Against another difficult opponent, the games won’t be easy. But Rossi’s message heading into the New Year remains clear.
“Don’t let the score be an indication of how we played,” Rossi said. “We’ve shown that we can play with any team.
“We’re making history.”