By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
Thus far, telling the story of the Grand Canyon University Men’s Ice Hockey team is two different reads. The 2016 chapter is one about a team simply looking to grow and find its identity. Flip the page to 2017, and it turns into a story about a team beginning to make noise.
The Lopes finished last season with a 6-22 record and a ranking of 30th in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II West Region. Up to this point in the current season, GCU has already blown those numbers away. Standing with a record of 9-11-3 and a ranking of ninth in the Division II West poll, the differences between last year and this year aren’t hard to miss.
“The biggest accomplishment we’ve had so far is we’ve been able to compete,” Lopes Head Coach Danny Roy said. “Last year, we were still one or two steps behind just to be competitive. This season, [in] every single game that we’ve played, even if we’ve lost, we could have done just one thing differently to win the game.”
GCU entered the season with almost a brand-new team. Sixteen newcomers, including 13 freshmen, highlighted a team with more youth, but also more skill and maturity. They were tested early in the season with three straight games, and losses, to Division I Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. Only one win would come in their next four games – a 6-4 victory over Colorado State – but the Lopes would find their turning point in mid-October.
A 5-3 triumph over Arizona State – GCU’s first-ever over the Sun Devils – would be followed by a 3-2 overtime win over Brigham Young University, and then a 5-3 victory over Weber State University. The Lopes would lose their next two to top-ranked Utah State, but earned their first-ever weekend sweep by defeating Long Beach State twice the next weekend.
“That three-game stretch, you could see the belief in the guys,” Roy said. “It gave them that confidence that we have something good.”
The span of games in October and November would deliver the highest ranking to GCU at the time, when they came in at No. 12 in the season’s first poll. The Lopes then climbed to their highest all-time ranking at No. 8 after they swept Weber State, 5-3 and 6-1, in early December.
“It was big to start up there, but to be able to climb up each week was huge,” Roy said. “Just going from 30th last year to the top 10 this year, it’s another cool thing to look at.”
While the Lopes have reaped the benefits of their progress, the ultimate goal of reaching nationals is yet to be attained. In order to get there, GCU must continue their gauntlet of tough competition. The Lopes will open 2018 with two games against the University of Arizona in Tucson, and then travel to Colorado the next weekend for a Showcase tournament that will include four games in four days. Two more each against ASU and No. 1 Northern Arizona will round out the slate, but New Year’s resolutions have been laid out to help the Lopes get to where they want to go.
“If we mature as a group, become a disciplined team and focus on the things that we can control, then we are going to reach our goal,” Roy said. “We want all positive energy moving forward from January 1 to the end of the season.”