The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina men's club hockey claims 1st national championship, aims to expand game across southern states

<p>FILE- South Carolina players cheer after winning the Palmetto Cup, beating Clemson 8-5 in the final game of the regular season on March 3, 2023, at Flight Adventure Park in Irmo, South Carolina. The team won the 2024 AAU College Hockey National Championship by defeating the University of Buffalo 4-1 on March 10, 2024.</p>
FILE- South Carolina players cheer after winning the Palmetto Cup, beating Clemson 8-5 in the final game of the regular season on March 3, 2023, at Flight Adventure Park in Irmo, South Carolina. The team won the 2024 AAU College Hockey National Championship by defeating the University of Buffalo 4-1 on March 10, 2024.

The University of South Carolina's men’s club hockey team captured its first championship title at the Amateur Athletic Union College Hockey National Tournament, which took place from March 6 to 13  in West Chester, Pennsylvania. 

The team's objective heading into the season was to win the championship after making the national tournament last season, said fourth-year exercise science student Dylan Greene, the team's assistant captain. 

"My sophomore and junior year, we had the group to do it both years, and unfortunately we didn't get that job done. So it's been on our bucket list for a long time, as a team, and this year with the group that we had, we definitely knew we had the teammates and the guys to do it," Greeley said. "So going in, we were all bought in, that was our ultimate goal."  

The Gamecocks showed its determination to achieve that goal with an 11-game winning streak at the start of the season. The team went on to finish second in its conference during the regular season and play No. 3 seed Georgia in the first round of the College Hockey South Division I Playoffs from February 9 to 11. 

Georgia would end up defeating South Carolina 4-3, which led to the team playing Alabama in the third-place game.  Even though both teams had a similar amount of shots on goal, it was the Crimson Tide that went on to win 4-2.  

Fourth-year finance and operations and supply chain student Bobby DiCicco, the team's captain, said it felt like the team hit a new low after going 0-2 in the conference tournament, and it needed to turn things around. 

We were in the lowest point we've ever been in terms of team chemistry. It was just tough, losing three out of our last four games before our SEC Tournament and then losing another two games straight in the SEC Tournament — that was a breaking point,” DiCicco said. "We just talked about what's our objective for the season, what do we want, how are we going to get there ... We had the capability and skill to do something special."  

South Carolina had three defining games to get through before it would travel to West Chester for the national tournament. 

The first two games were against Alabama at Flight Adventure Park in Irmo, South Carolina. The Gamecocks beat the Frozen Tide in both games, avenging its loss in the conference tournament six days prior. 

The final game of the regular season was against Clemson at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The Gamecocks defeated the Tigers 5-3 and successfully claimed the Palmetto Cup in the process. 

South Carolina was ranked No. 7 in the national tournament and placed in a pool with Niagara, Fairfield and Fordham. Every team would play each other during the tournament, and the winner of the pool would advance to the semi-finals.  

In the opening game, South Carolina played Fairfield. The Gamecocks started strong, going up 1-0 early in the second period and scoring another goal in the third, but the Stags would score two goals of its own in the third to send the game into overtime. 

Second-year sport and entertainment management student John Riggins found the back of the net to score his third goal of the game and win the matchup for the Gamecocks. 

We really took it to them that game. We just weren't getting bounces. I got pretty lucky that day with a lot of good bounces,” Riggins said. "When that third one went in, it was a nice little relief because game one, you play a really good game, it would be really unfortunate to drop that game, so to get out of that first one and we were able to get on a roll was really nice."

Riggins' impressive performance did not stop after game one, as he would go on to amass five goals and five assists across five games as well as win the title of Division 1 MVP.

The team's next matchup was against Fordham. South Carolina was dominant from start to finish, winning the game 7-0. 

The final game of pool play came against Niagara. Because both teams were 2-0,  the winner would advance to the semi-finals.

South Carolina got off to a 2-0 head start by the end of the second period, but it quickly saw that lead disappear as Niagara scored two goals in the third, including one with just three seconds left in the game to send it into overtime. 

In this game, it was first-year pre-business student Tommy Marvin who scored the game-winner and clinched the team's spot in the semi-finals, where it would be matched up with conference foe Tampa. 

Tampa was ranked as the No. 1 team in the tournament, making this one of the biggest matchups of the season for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks would score the first goal, but Tampa was quick to respond with three of its own to take a 3-1 lead early in the second period.

South Carolina rallied and scored three more goals in the second period, compared to Tampa's one, to tie the score at 4-4. The Gamecocks dominated in the final period, scoring two goals to beat the Spartans 6-4 and advance to play Buffalo in the championship. 

Throughout the first 20 minutes of the championship game, neither team managed to find the back of the net. But Buffalo eventually found a breakthrough, tasking a 1-goal lead in the second period. South Carolina held strong and scored two goals in the second and two more in the third, cruising to a 4-1 win and its first national championship victory. 

"I was kind of shocked, thinking about the last two years before now and all the guys that were so supportive. And we all had that same goal, and it didn't happen. So big part of me was I thought instantly back to them and all the efforts that they had given," Greeley said. "But also just celebrating with all the guys after the win and cheering and going nuts, honestly, you just lose track of time and lose all sense of anything and just have a great time." 

South Carolina was not the only southern university to win a championship at the tournament. Both Florida and Miami won their respective divisions, as well.

DiCicco said growing the game of hockey in the South has been the Gamecocks' long-term goal as a team, and he was proud to accomplish it.

“That's been our mission for however long I've been president and before me, is to grow the game in the South and to see it expanding as much as it is. People always say, 'Hockey doesn't work in the South.' We're proving that wrong," DiCicco said. "Hockey in the South is definitely growing, and it's pretty cool."