The South Carolina club ice hockey team defeated Clemson 9-6 in its last regular season game last week to clinch the 2019 Palmetto Cup at Plex Sports in Irmo.
The stakes are always high whenever the Gamecocks and Tigers face one another. This game was especially important for the six Gamecocks seniors, who were honored during Senior Night festivities before puck drop.
To senior defenseman Duncan Hickman, an alternate captain for the Gamecocks team, Senior Night was meaningful for multiple reasons.
“Senior Night isn’t just when we honor the seniors in our program, but it’s also our last home game. So for the seniors, it was our last time playing at the rink where we spent countless hours over the last 4 years," Hickman said in an email interview.
One of the more popular clichés in hockey is “the fourth win is the hardest to get." After a lopsided 7-0 loss to the Tigers on Senior Night last season, a Palmetto Cup win this season may have seemed like a hard one for the Gamecocks to get, too.
In last year’s Senior Night loss, the Gamecocks were hampered by injuries, which led to the team reshuffling its lines. Despite beating Clemson twice last season, the team did not get the result it hoped for on Senior Night.
“Last year, I think we had some unique circumstances," Hickman said. We ended up having to change up our lines and really just weren’t connecting with each other very well, and unfortunately suffered a steep loss.”
This time around, it was a brand new game and the Gamecocks were ready for it.
“This season, we’ve been lucky to have a mostly healthy squad, and I think we have more depth in terms of talent than we’ve had in years past,” Hickman said.
Gamecocks forward Cameron Mecca scored less than a minute into the game to give his team a 1-0 lead. Mecca led the team with 24 points this season.
Clemson scored the equalizer about 10 minutes later, and soon after, Gamecocks senior captain Jake Tengi got into a scrap and took down one of the Tigers players. He needed a goal and an assist to complete a Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal, an assist and a fight. Ultimately, Tengi delivered, scoring the two of his team’s goals while assisting on another tally.
To Hickman, Tengi’s fight played a big role in the game.
“Seeing your captain get after it in the first period really sets the tone, and you could immediately see the change in intensity”, Hickman said.
The spectators who packed the arena from start to finish saw 15 combined goals between the two teams. In the end, the Gamecocks prevailed and took home the Palmetto Cup.
Next on the schedule for the Gamecocks is a regional matchup against the University of Tampa in Huntsville, Alabama on March 9 at 8 p.m.
As one of the team’s leaders, Hickman acknowledges the Gamecocks must approach their next game ready to play.
Regardless of how the Gamecocks do in regionals, Hickman will have various things to reflect on when he looks back on his time as a member of the South Carolina club ice hockey team.
“A lot has happened in the last 4 years. We’ve had bench-clearing brawls, line brawls, fights during warm-ups, and fights at the ends of games," Hickman said. "We’ve also had some wild OT wins and crazy comebacks. I remember my first assist and my first goal.”
Above all, Hickman is grateful for one overarching element the club ice hockey program has provided him.
“But I think what it comes down to is that I’ve been able to continue playing the sport that I love for 4 more years than I expected," Hickman said.