Owen Thomas, a senior left wing for Gamecock hockey, grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, where he spent his childhood afternoons going on boats, playing at the beach and fishing. But only one sport dominated all of those activities.
“It’s a big hockey town," Thomas said. "I always tell people, hockey up there is like football down here. That’s the sport you play.”
The game is in his genes. His father played goalie in high school, and his uncle, Scott Thomas, played in the National Hockey League for the Buffalo Sabres.
So when Thomas made the overtime goal to clinch the College Hockey South East Division title with a final score of 4-3 on Feb. 3 against the University of Georgia, it was a manifestation of his lifelong hard work.
Thomas began playing hockey at just 6 years old. However, it surprisingly wasn’t love at first sight.
“When I started at 6 I hated it,” Thomas said. “I ended up actually quitting.”
But Thomas would come around to the sport sooner rather than later when he was 8 years old.
“I went to a (Boston) Bruins game, and I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” Thomas said. “Then I got right back into hockey, and since then ... I’ve been playing ever since.”
During his teenage years, Thomas played for a team in the highest amateur circuit available for young players, the Boston Advantage AAA. He said that experience helped him become the player he is for South Carolina’s club team.
"You’re playing all the best guys in the country," Thomas said. "Playing against kids who are going to get potentially drafted, a lot of D1 picks, so it prepared me very well.”
It was during his game against the Bulldogs where Thomas got the opportunity to showcase his experience.
The game was close through the first two periods, with the Gamecocks holding a 2-1 lead after two. However, South Carolina couldn't hold onto the lead as the teams went into overtime 3-3.
Heading into overtime, sophomore goalie Zach Hayes said Thomas was instrumental in helping boost the team's morale.
"Our confidence was way down," Hayes said. "Thomas and Mike Bolger were a big part of getting our team back together and getting us ready to go back out there."
Despite the momentum shift, Thomas said he and his team kept their composure by thinking about the team's lost last season against Georgia in Athens.
“Last year, we're in a kind of similar situation,” Thomas said. "(This time around) I think we kind of knew, ‘We’re gonna put one away here.’”
At the beginning of the overtime period, Thomas then got the puck and shot it far right side to end the game.
“I didn’t really even have my legs under me yet,” he said. “We lost the puck down low, and their (defensive-man) was bringing it up, and (Dylan) Greeley came in."
Junior winger Dylan Greeley was instrumental in the play, stealing the puck from Georgia and finding Thomas.
"(I) would manage to self-pass the puck to my stick and just threw it in there to the middle to (Thomas)," Greeley said.
Despite having played hockey all his life, Thomas said the play was "definitely up there" among his all-time hockey memories.
“I don’t think I’ve ever scored an overtime goal,” Thomas said. “It’s nice to really feel like I’m having an impact on us winning.”
Thomas also said his relationships he has formed with his teammates outside of hockey has helped them while playing games.
"Off the ice we're always hanging out together," Thomas said. "We've also just got a super tight-knit group. I think that's something we prioritized pretty early in the year."
Sitting at 24-2, Thomas and his teammates will look to continue their success in the College Hockey South Regional Playoffs beginning on Feb. 23.