By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
Any season finale is supposed to be bittersweet. Sunday was no different for Grand Canyon University Women’s Ice Hockey.
The Lopes fought back from two separate one-goal deficits, but couldn’t fight back from a third, falling to the University of Denver, 3-2, in the final game of the inaugural season.
“They continually do a good job of just rallying,” GCU Head Coach Natalie Rossi said. “It’s always hard to be behind, but our girls take the challenge and step up every single time.”
The first deficit came halfway into the opening period where the Lopes had trouble finding the pace they wanted. Denver’s forecheck was able to enter and keep the puck in the zone before Gwen Coey threw a bouncing puck on net for the game’s first goal. GCU slowly began to find their legs soon after, and finally broke through on a power play with a hard-working goal late in the period. The Lopes’ Tiffany Racataian moved the puck off the corner boards and found Hannah Joralmon at the blue line. Her shot was tipped by Lopes’ “birthday girl” Jenna Kimbrel, and bounced into the net for the tying goal with just three seconds left on the power play.
“It was a fun, good birthday present,” Kimbrel said. “We had traffic in front of the net, and it was good we were able to get a lot of shots off.”
GCU had been emphasizing offensive-zone work in practice, and Rossi was pleased to see the time spent in practice pay off when it counted.
“Our power play came together really nicely today,” Rossi said. “You could see the girls were moving a lot more in the offensive zone and controlling the puck.”
The scored remained 1-1 until Denver added their second with 2:50 left in the middle period. A higher pace from the period carried over into the third when GCU came back for another tying goal at 13:20. A rush up ice sent Joralmon to the net who wristed a soft shot past the line. Despite the Lopes’ continued chances with their improved offensive-zone play throughout the period, it was the Pioneers finding the game-winner with 2:11 remaining.
GCU was outshot 14-6 in the first period, but evened the shot total at 23-all over the final two periods. GCU goalie Haylee Gannaway stopped 34 of 37 Pioneer shots, while the Lopes were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
Looking Ahead to the Offseason
It’s now onto a lengthy offseason with plenty to look back on. Even if feelings were mixed after the season finale, the team knows there are still positives to be taken away heading into the months ahead.
“We made history by being the first-ever women’s hockey team at GCU,” Rossi said. “It’s sad to know that it’s over, because the first season is in fact, over. But it’s exciting because we’re continually looking toward the future, and we’re still making history every day.”
Added Kimbrel, “We were all strangers at the beginning of the year and now we’re all good friends. We saw each other all the time, so it’s nice to have formed a little family within our team.”