The Gamecock club hockey team returned to the ice last Friday following a COVID-19-related hiatus after the American Club Hockey Association (ACHA) suspended play during the 2020-21 school year. South Carolina defeated Kennesaw State 7-2 in its season opener at the Plex, as they delivered fans a resounding start to their 20th season.
“All I’ll be concentrating on really is our team 'cause we are deep and really good. We have a lot of speed, good goaltending, good defensemen,” head coach Allan Sirois said before the opener. “If we play the way we’re supposed to, we’ll be successful.”
Sirois speaks very highly of his squad, and with good reason. In early 2020 the Gamecocks were punctuating a 21-1-1 season with a regionals victory that qualified them for the national tournament. Unfortunately, nationals was cancelled, and the team spent last year playing in the University of South Carolina Hockey League (USCHL,) which was all internal competition, as it prepared for its return to ACHA competition.
“We have pretty much all the position[s] filled to where we feel really, really comfortable that we have a really solid team,” Sirois said.
Sirois and his club picked up where they left off, scoring three goals in as many minutes toward the end of the first period to open up a secure lead, which the team only grew throughout the contest.
"I said this to a lot of my teammates, too, before the game: ‘Take this in; we haven’t played in forever’ — getting those first few goals right off the bat and kind of just seeing the crowd going crazy again felt really awesome,” team captain Cameron Mecca, senior sports and entertainment management student, said.
Both Sirois and Mecca mentioned the impact the fans have on the team’s performance when it plays home games at the Flight Ice Rink and how proud they are of their growing notoriety on campus and around Columbia.
“They had so much energy, and it comes from the fans, it really does. You got the music coming in and announcing the players and everybody's cheering; it really rise[s] those guys ... it’s a really cool place to play,” Sirois said.
Sirois also applauded the players' work on social media promoting the team. He said the team saw 72 students turn up for tryouts, that number is almost double the turnout of when he began coaching six years ago.
Cock Hockey, as the team is known on social media, has a packed schedule in front of it, including a trifecta of games against instate rival Clemson. Two of the contests are at home and will likely be the most anticipated by Gamecock fans.
“The team we saw in senior night, in 2020, was totally different, they added a bunch of really good players, and it’s going to be really, really a big, strong, physical game whenever we play them,” Sirois said.
As for the season outlook, Sirois said he's confident in his players skill and ability to execute and generally looking forward to a return of the status quo, Gamecock victories.
“This will be the best group of players we've had since I've been here. So, really, really excited. Looking forward to a great season, a bunch of wins and, you know, excited I have to coach a bunch of really good guys and good people all together. We have a lot of fun together and you know, winning is fun as well. So, we're looking forward to getting started because it's been a long time.” Sirois said.
Mecca said he recommended anyone in the area come watch club hockey team play.
“It’s a lot of fun. I think we have some of the most diverse fan base we have out of a whole lot of the sports — we have kids; we have old adults; we have college students,” Mecca said. “It’s been awesome to see the rise in the game these last few years.”