The South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC) announced earlier this year that, due to the coronavirus, competition would take place during the spring for the 2020-2021 season, meaning the Gamecock club hockey team wouldn't play until January. But with Plex HiWire's USCHL, a newly created hockey league, team members can still practice this semester.
Team creative director Ben Smith said members of the club were disappointed to hear the season was pushed back, but that “as time came closer, [they] saw it was a little bit inevitable.”
Head coach Al Sirois said senior team president Evan Hoey was a “big part” of the process that created the USCHL.
In a meeting with the club's senior staff, Hoey proposed the idea of a “quasi-men's league for students only” that would follow all the COVID-19 protocols handed down by state, local and university guidelines.
Upon the announcement of the USCHL at Plex HiWire, moods on the team improved, according to Sirois.
“I think the guys are pretty positive right now, and I'm looking forward to having a good time and play hard and get themselves ready for January," Sirois said.
The main difference between the USCHL and a normal regular season for the club hockey team is that, in the USCHL, games are played between Gamecock students, as opposed to traveling to play teams from rival schools such as Clemson and Georgia.
There are four teams competing in the USCHL, all made up of returners from the 2019-2020 team and newcomers who tried out in an “evaluation skate,” junior team captain Cam Mecca said. Two games are played on Monday nights between the teams for the next 11 weeks.
The first games took place Monday night, and Smith said the games "went off without a hitch." From an operational standpoint, everything went "relatively well," Hoey said.
“Everybody was a little rusty, I'll say that for sure, but we're looking forward to these next coming weeks where everybody can get back into the stride, get their legs back and get their lungs back," Hoey said.
The rust was expected, though. Sioris said that some players haven’t skated all summer due to rinks in the students' hometowns being closed since March.
“It's really not their fault," Sirois said. "Being in shape and being in hockey shape is a whole different ball game.”
Not only is the league being used to get the team back in shape, but it has also provided another way for the team to recruit freshmen and other newcomers. The typical tryout system, according to Hoey, is “two skates and a couple scrimmages, and then we have to draft the team from there.”
The USCHL allows Sioris and Hoey three months to observe their new recruits.
"We get to see how everybody's skating the next 11 weeks here, and really draft the best 25, 30 guys possible to put together the most competitive team.” Hoey said.
Sioris said having that amount of time to evaluate talent was “amazing” and would allow him “to be able to really see someone get better or not get better.”
For now, the USCHL might be a one and done, but Sioris said that if there is demand for the league in the future it would be “great” to bring it back.
Correction Sept. 17: A previous version of this article misstated that Cock Hockey created USCHL. Plex HiWire created USCHL.