The Daily Gamecock

Ice 'Cock rally collapses late against Kentucky

SECHC title bid canceled as Wildcats score six unanswered in final 16 minutes

South Carolina's title hopes plummeted Friday afternoon as they coughed up a third-period lead to ultimately fall to #3 seed Kentucky in the first round of the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament 9-4.

The Gamecocks brought only 19 players to Ford Ice Center in Antioch, Tennessee, missing key scorer Alec Martone and backup goaltender Nick Jasinski. Despite a short bench and the Wildcats' experience in ACHA D2, a level above most SECHC teams, South Carolina played Kentucky close for 40 minutes and even led in the third period before fading.

Out-shot only 9-7 in the first period, South Carolina headed into the dressing room down 2-0 but rallied quickly in the second. Eight minutes into the period on a 4-on-3 power play, Brian Sohr beat Kentucky goaltender Francis Eble with a low wrist shot from just inside the blue line to open the scoring for the Gamecocks. Jack Watson followed up just 16 seconds later to tie the game.

South Carolina goaltender Jared Ward took a roughing penalty just a minute after Watson's goal for shoving a Kentucky player who collided with him as Ward covered the puck. With Alex Siegfried serving Ward's time in the penalty box, Kentucky's Beck Schultz rifled home a cross-ice pass to get Kentucky back on top 3-2 just past the halfway mark of the second.

Kentucky's jubilation was short as Sean Davis soon scored a highlight reel goal to get the Gamecocks back in it once again. With 11:39 left in the period, a streaking Davis took a pass in the left circle and sent the puck between his legs to the toe of his stick, beating Eble high with a backhand shot to tie it 3-3.

Davis injured his knee while celebrating the goal and was helped to the South Carolina locker room. He did not return for the third period, when the floodgates opened for Kentucky.

Rookie forward Ben Smith tucked home his fourth goal in three games to put the Gamecocks ahead 4-3 with 17:39 remaining, but that was as good as it got for South Carolina. With Sohr serving a roughing minor, Schultz completed his sixth hat trick of the season two minutes later to tie the game for Kentucky. Mike DeAngelis quickly followed with his first goal for the Wildcats and James Kasch scored soon after to put his team ahead 6-4, just four and a half minutes after South Carolina took the lead.

With 5:03 remaining in the game, South Carolina head coach Allan Sirosis elected to pull Ward from the goal and bring an extra skater on to the ice. The measure did not pay off as Kasch scored his second goal of the game and 17th of the season on the empty net within 30 seconds.

DeAngelis wrapped things up for Kentucky with his second goal of the period 1:08 before the final horn. 

"It was huge letdown by mostly, actually, veteran players," Sirois said after the game. "They just didn't show up for the last 15 minutes of that game and I really don't know why."

On the absence of Davis in the third, Sirois said the forward's injury was a "huge" loss on offense. He commented that Davis might not play in any of the team's further games this season, such as Feb. 20 vs. Clemson in Irmo.

South Carolina takes on #5 Ole Miss for fifth place Saturday at 3 p.m. Kentucky faces #2 Arkansas in the semifinals Saturday at 8 p.m.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Jared Ward was pulled with 14:57 remaining in the game. Ward was pulled with 5:03 remaining, which was 14:57 into the third period.


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