French Joins Youth Hockey Program, Forms Special Bond with Lopes’ Sophomore
By: Maria Adams/GCU Staff
When Julie French turned on an Olympic ice hockey game one winter day, she noticed that her 3-year-old daughter, Amelia, was instantly mesmerized by the sport.
By the time Amelia was four, the excitement for ice hockey only intensified. Still skeptical about the dangers of allowing such a young girl out on the ice, Amelia’s mother reached out to Grand Canyon University Women’s Hockey Coach Natalie Rossi.
Rossi was pleased to see interest in ice hockey at such a young age, and invited Amelia to join the youth hockey program Blue Line Buddies. Amelia’s involvement with the GCU Women’s Hockey team did not stop there.
Over the next two years, Amelia became the Lopes’ biggest fan, making appearances at every home game and building relationships with the players. One player in particular developed a distinct bond with Amelia.
“It really does feel like she is a part of the team,” said Lopes’ sophomore standout Rian Braun. “We just expect to see her there and be at warmups getting us ready for the game.”
Braun credits Amelia for her decision to join the Lopes. Growing up playing the game, Braun had already been in communication with Rossi about joining the team but had decided not to pursue it. It was not until – by coincidence – Braun met Amelia that she decided to reconsider her decision.
“I was on campus wearing a USA hockey shirt, and I felt a tap on my shoulder,” said Braun. “It was Amelia asking me if I was on the GCU team. Seeing how into hockey she was, it inspired me to be a part of a team again.”
Shortly after their chance meeting, Braun officially joined the Lopes’ roster. Each game at AZ Ice Arcadia (the Lopes’ home ice rink), Amelia cheered on the Lopes sporting the number 14 on her shirt – Braun’s jersey number. The duo also began to prepare for each game with their very own handshake. The handshake, which became more elaborate over time, never fails to put a smile on Braun’s face before she takes to the ice.
“She makes us want to play harder so we can show her what is possible,” said Braun. “Women’s hockey is a really powerful thing.”
Sometimes the roles reverse, and Braun cheers on Amelia
As much as Amelia loves celebrating the Lopes, she could hardly contain her excitement when Braun applauded from the stands at her game for the Arizona Kachinas Hockey Association last week.
Whether Braun is on the ice or in the stands, Amelia continues to motivate her and reignite a fire for the game.
“I grew up watching the older college girls, and one girl I really looked up to reached out to me,” said Braun. “I am so happy I now get to be that person for Amelia.”
Interested in joining GCU Women’s Ice Hockey? Contact Lopes’ Head Coach Natalie Rossi today!