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The cross-town showdown: ASU and GCU women's hockey prepare to face off

ASU women's hockey will take on GCU in the two team's inaugural series in Tempe

GCU Versus ASU

Graphic published on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. 

Last October, it was announced that the Las Vegas Golden Knights would join the National Hockey League (NHL). This expansion to the NHL’s Pacific Division might be the start of one of the new hockey rivalries in the southwest, between the Knights and the Arizona Coyotes. 

However, there could be a new college hockey rivalry right in ASU's backyard.

The Arizona State women’s hockey team will start their second season as an American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) program this Friday when they host Grand Canyon University. The two campuses lie within 16 miles of one another.

For GCU, it will be their first season as an ACHA Division I hockey program. Both teams will compete in the ACHA as a part of the Western Women’s Collegiate Hockey League (WWCHA). 

The cross-town schools are scheduled to play each other five times this season. 

They play twice in Tempe, twice at GCU’s home arena in Peoria and once in Colorado as a part of an ACHA showcase tournament. 

“From going to not even having two travel youth programs, to having two college female teams is huge,” ASU head coach Lindsey Ellis said. “It’s an automatic rivalry.”

GCU is coached by Natalie Rossi, who is a former State University of New York (SUNY) defenseman. Rossi is originally from Edison, New Jersey, where she was a player for the New Jersey Rockets club hockey team.

After her playing career concluded, Rossi coached the Rockets, where she expanded the program from two hockey teams to 10. She hopes to carry a similar goal to GCU.

“Here in Arizona, girls hockey at the youth level is being at the stage of starting to grow,” Rossi said. “Having the two college teams here definitely helps a lot with the growth of hockey.”

Rossi has lived in Arizona for five years, and she studied at ASU after graduating from SUNY, where she earned a speech-language pathology assistant license. 

As for the rivalry developing this season, GCU is ready for their inaugural series with the Sun Devils.

“As soon as we got on the ice, the girls started talking about how excited they are to play against ASU,” Rossi said. “It’s great to have that competition within the state.”

GCU’s roster features 21 players from 11 different states — the Antelopes have 13 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. Among those 21 players is one familiar face for the Sun Devils.

Last year, Makayla Fehlig wore the Maroon and Gold for ASU. In the offseason, the sophomore forward transferred to GCU to join her former club hockey coach.

“I coached her three years ago (with the Arizona Lady Coyotes),” Rossi said. “She is really settling in here and getting along very well with the girls, and being a leader on the team.”

Both coaches agreed that the games between their two teams this year can possibly aid in developing women’s hockey in the valley. There might even be possible recruiting battles in the near future for these two aspiring programs.

“We have a few other prospects from Arizona,” Ellis said. “This weekend is huge for us in terms of recruiting for Arizona players.”

As for up-and-coming female hockey players, Rossi believes that it will be great to establish the rivalry for local youth players.

“Our success is dependent on theirs (ASU), and their success is dependent on ours in some way, shape or form,” Rossi said. “Their program doing well makes our program do well.”

ASU captain and senior defenseman KC McGinley, an Arizona native, is pleased to see how far hockey has come since she played youth hockey.

“It’s definitely something I never saw coming, but we only wished would happen growing up,” McGinley said. “I thought it would happen in the future ... but it’s amazing that I get to be a part of it, and to be able to have all of my friends finally get to come and watch me play against a hometown rivalry. There’s nothing better than that.”

ASU and GCU will begin their inaugural series on Friday and Saturday this weekend. Puck drop on Friday is at 7:30 p.m. at Oceanside Arena in Tempe.

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