By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
There is always room to get better.
Even with just a month before the brand new season starts, Grand Canyon University Men’s Ice Hockey is hard at work during the summer and has announced a new group of recruits that will suit up for the Lopes in 2018-19. Forwards Brendan Bessee, Andrei Yanovich and goaltender Gabriel Lepper are all natives of Arizona, while another two forwards, Declan Carter and Zach Bennett, are from across the border in Canada. They will join an additional six from the spring recruiting class that was announced in June.
“They are all good people, and all are good athletes,” Lopes’ Head Coach Danny Roy said. “They’re all skilled, and all have the ability to contribute on the ice, but off the ice, the locker room is going to be great and will have a good vibe with good relationships.”
Brendan Bessee is from Globe, and has played the last four years in junior hockey with teams across the United States. The 6-foot forward played last season with the Oklahoma City Jr. Blazers in the Western States Hockey League, tallying four goals with two assists in 19 games played. His career highs came the year before with the Helena Bighorns in the North American Tier III Hockey League (NA3HL), where he put up eight goals with 14 assists.
“Coming to GCU has been on his radar for a while,” Roy said. “It fits both his and his family’s values. He is going to be a big, physical presence. He has that chip that he’s not afraid to play with. It’s going to be nice to have that in the lineup.”
Andrei Yanovich is an Arizona native from Scottsdale. He has played the last three seasons for Notre Dame Prep, helping the Saints to a playoff appearance each year. Last year, Yanovich was a finalist for Arizona Boys High School Hockey Player of the Year when he notched 17 goals and 15 assists for a Saints team that went 19-0-1 in the regular season. The 6-foot forward was also part of Team Arizona at the USA Hockey America’s Showcase in St. Louis, Missouri, in April, where he totaled four assists in the team’s four games at the tournament.
“‘Yanni’ is a good team guy in the locker room,” Roy said. “He is a solid body, he is very fast when he gets moving and he has lots of skill. It’s going to be interesting to see him grow with the program, because he is one of those players who we see as growing each year and becoming a really good hockey player with us.”
The lone non-forward of the group is Gabriel Lepper, a goaltender from Glendale. He played one year of junior hockey last season with the Gillette Wild in the NA3HL, putting up a .827 save percentage. Lepper also played for Goltz Hockey and Arizona Hockey Union during his playing days in Arizona.
“What drew me to him was that he never gave up on the puck,” Roy said. “His compete is 110 percent every puck. He has a lot of potential, and has the ability to compete with our other goalies to show that he belongs here. He’s really excited to be a part of the program.”
Winnipeg, Manitoba-born Declan Carter now hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and has played the majority of his hockey career in junior hockey in both Canada and the U.S. Last season, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound forward played with the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, scoring career highs in goals (10) and assists (14) in 55 games played. He also played three seasons of junior hockey in Atlanta, most recently with the Atlanta Capitals in the NA3HL in 2017.
“He’s big, he has size and has the ability to put the puck in the net,” Roy said. “He’s another player that has a great attitude, and is extremely excited about getting the season started. He wanted to sign before his application was even official. He’s already bought in before getting here, and that’s huge for us.”
Finally, Zach Bennett is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound forward from Grande Prairie, Alberta. Bennett has played the majority of his career in Grande Prairie with various programs. For the last three seasons, he was an integral part of the Grand Prairie JDA Kings, a Junior B team in the North West Junior Hockey League. Bennett helped the Kings to playoff appearances all three years with the team, and has led them in goals for the last two. He scored a career-high in goals and assists last season with 25 and 29, respectively, while also scoring five goals and three assists during the team’s run into the semifinals of the NWJHL Playoffs.
“He is another player that is 100 percent bought in,” Roy said. “He has ability to put the puck in the net, pass the puck and make things happen. He’s stayed with the same program for most of his entire hockey career, and that shows he’s a good team guy. He will be a big plus and addition to every aspect of our game.”
The Lopes begin selection and their main camps the first week of September before opening their season September 14 in Tempe against Arizona State University Division I.