By Katherine Turner
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Junior forward Danny Lopez is having a record-breaking season which includes a Division I program record 14-game point streak. His 12 power play goals are also second all-time in the program's Division I history. His hard work and his determination to improve every season has led to a breakout year. On Friday night, Lopez and the Crusaders will be back on the ice when they travel to Robert Morris for the opening game of their Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinal series.
Since a young age, Lopez, a native of Barrington Hills, Ill., has dreamed of continuing his love for the sport of hockey. After a stop in New Jersey to play for the New Jersey Hitmen of the United States Premier Hockey League, Lopez followed his dream at Holy Cross. His parents have always been role models as they have encouraged him to be the best he can be in the game he loves. “My parents been there since day one of hockey and have been supportive of everything,” said Lopez. “They have impacted who I am and remind me that I must approach everything with hard work and passion.”
His teammates are not surprised by his outstanding season because they are fully aware of the dedication he has put into his game. Senior Mike Barrett has spent four of the last five years playing with Lopez, one of which was in New Jersey for the Hitmen. On his official visit to Holy Cross, Lopez visited Barrett and immediately fell in love with the school. Now being in their third season together as Crusaders, Barrett has witnessed first-hand all of Lopez's hard work. “I've seen Danny grow into an incredible player and that's all because of the hard work he's put into getting better,” said Barrett. “I always see him out on the ice doing skill work and watching video from previous games. He's taken it upon himself to improve his game and because of that I'm not the least bit surprised about the breakout season he's having. He's a great teammate to play with on a line. He has the ability to make plays and score goals, and makes the players around him better."
Last summer, Lopez participated in hockey-specific training. The training involved players from college through professional hockey and had a positive impact on him. “It was just a different level of training that I had not had before,” said Lopez. “It had a huge impact for this season and I saw major changes. You see how NHL players train, their habits and routines, and you come into school with those habits.”
Holy Cross head coach David Berard has been very impressed with the hard work and dedication that Lopez has put into succeeding on the ice. “Danny has made incredible strides from his freshman year, not only from a strength perspective but he totally transformed his body type: the way he eats, the way he takes care of himself and how he goes about his day to try to get better as a hockey player. It has been great to see his improvement from one year to the next.”
As a freshman, Lopez played in 14 games and posted three goals and one assist, while as a sophomore he won the team's Most Improved Player Award, playing in all 36 games and recording 10 goals and eight assists. This season, Lopez leads the team with 17 goals and a total of 32 points. His 17 goals are tied for sixth in the Division I history of the program. Lopez has also been named one of 23 semifinalists for the prestigious 65th Walter Brown Award. The award is presented annually to the best American-born college hockey player in New England.
Coach Berard knows how important Lopez has been to the team this season. “He has an ability to produce offense,” said Berard. “He's got a great release and a great knack for the net. He is someone who is very reliable, and we have 100 percent confidence that Danny will get the job done offensively as well as defensively.”
Lopez celebrates with his teammates
Lopez attributes a lot of his success to skills he has learned under coach Berard. He has learned that he must take the ice everyday as if it were the championship game. “I understand the important and necessary aspects of the game including the meetings and skill sessions,” said Lopez. “I have realized it's the little things that result in success.”
The coaches have taught him what it means to be a top player in a championship-level program, and Lopez is always still looking to get better on the ice. “The coaches have always taught me that I need to get faster, stronger, quicker and improve on small aspects of my game,” said Lopez. “I still don't think I've reached my full potential but over the years I have seen development. The coaches look at the little things in my game to try to get me to be the best I can be.
As the Crusaders continue their season into the playoffs, Lopez is confident that the team has what it takes to win the championship. “We have to keep building every weekend and play good team defense and capitalize on opportunities. We just need to play our game and we will go as far as we want to go.”
Lopez and his teammates are about to start their quest for the program's third Atlantic Hockey Championship. The Crusaders (14-13-7, 11-10-7 AHC) are the fifth seed and will play at fourth seed Robert Morris (19-11-4, 15-10-3) on March 10-12 in a best two-out-of-three Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series. The winner will advance to the semifinal round in Rochester, N.Y. on March 17. To follow the Holy Cross men's hockey team in the playoffs, follow the Crusaders on Twitter @HCrossMHockey, Facebook and Instagram.