The opening game of the 2018 South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference was #6 seed South Carolina Gamecocks verses #3 seed Kentucky Wildcats. The game was a wild one as it swung back and forth in the second until Kentucky capitalized on South Carolina’s mistakes and netted two power play goals and an empty net short handed goal to seal the game. In the end, the Gamecocks fell to the Wildcats 9-4. They advance to the semi-finals where they will play the Arkansas Razorbacks.
It was Joel Ward in net for the Gamecocks against Cortland Eble or the Wildcats as the puck dropped in Game 1 of the 2018 SECHC tournament. The period got off to start as each team sized each other up. Ian Powderly and Geoffrey Kostrzebski got the shots on goal started for the Gamecocks, but Eble easily saw the plays. Only a few seconds later, the Wildcats tested Ward as Jake Patneau and Ryan Duffy made their own shots. Ian Powderly almost put the Gamecocks on the board first with a shot from the crease which rebounded off Erble, but no one was home to pick up the loose change.
The one constant thing in the period as it went was icing. The Wildcats iced the puck multiple times to keep the Gamecocks momentum stalled. One thought a cake could be iced with some to spare as much icing the Wildcats committed. Special teams got their first look of the night as Gamecocks’ Brian Sohr took a seat for a cross check. The Wildcats power play unit brought the offense, slapping several shots home on Ward. They were rewarded with a power play goal from Brandon Spindlow with an assist from Ryan Duffy. Duffy found Spindlow alone with no coverage and Spindlow beat Ward with a wrister to put the Wildcats up 1-0.
The Gamecocks responded, but Eble stood tall, making saves when called upon. Their best look of the period was from Ian Powderly who allayed oped the puck on Eble, but he was able to track the puck and make the save. The Gamecocks then got two straight shots off from the back to back face offs, but again Eble kept his team ahead. Despite the offense from the Gamecocks, Jordan Shannon of the Wildcats came upon a breakaway in the neutral zone after some miscommunication between the Gamecocks. Ward dived out in an attempt to pokecheck the puck away, but Shannon easily skated around him to pass the puck to Beck Schultz to easily tap it in, putting the Wildcats up 2-0. The first ended with the Wildcats with a commanding two goal lead and leading in shots 9-7.
The middle frame was a complete reverse of the second. After a brief intermission, the Gamecocks came out with fire in their belly. They brought the offense early, forcing Eble to stand tall once again. Shannon attempted to kill the momentum to put the Wildcats up 3-0, but no one was home once again to put the rebound in. South Carolina again found themselves on the penalty kill with a slashing on Powderly, but the Gamecocks easily killed it.
Finally, in the middle of the second, the Gamecocks found their chance on the power play as Duffy was called for hooking. The Gamecocks pushed and found twine as Brian Sohr beat Eblue glove side with a wrister unassisted when he found himself alone in the slot with no man coverage. The Gamecocks only a few seconds later brought things even with a goal from Jack Watson. He was assisted by Ben Smith and Ian Powderly.
It was a short lived celebration though as the Gamecocks were back in the box for cross checking from Alex Siegfried who was defending Ward from a play gone wrong. The Wildcats capitalized as Schultz banked it home making it 3-2 again. He was assisted by Brandon Spindlow and Patrick Lehmann. The Gamecocks responded right back with a goal from Sean Davis assisted by Ian Scheider, making it 3-3. During the goal celebration though, Davis appeared to have possibly twisted his ankle and went down, needing to be assisted off the ice. He did not return in the game.
The penalty trouble continued for the Wildcats as Max Boss was called for tripping and Brandon Spindlow sat for tripping. The Gamecocks could not capitalize, generating five to six shots on goal, but no twine. The Wildcats found their legs again late in the second and put shots against Ward who had it easy going for most the period. The rest for Ward almost led to a goal as Schultz hit Ward with the puck and it fell to the side of him, but once again, no player was able to put it home as the clock wound down. The frame ended with each team tied and shots on goal barely in favor of the Wildcats, 19-18.
”We got to expect every game to by physical,” said Wildcats’ Schultz to the media after the game. “The physicality is more of a mind game for us. We try our best not to retaliate. That’s one of our biggest things. We just have to keep our heads in the game and focus on the ice and not what other players are saying. Keeping our heads, staying positive. Physically is always good. It brings completion. We love being a physical team and if any team wants to by physical with us, we’ll give it right back.”
The third was a plethora of goals as right from the get go, the Wildcats committed a turn over in the slot and Ben Smith potted it past Eble, and for the first time in the game, the Gamecocks had the lead. This was Smith’s third goal in three games with the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, they went right on the penalty kill with Brian Sohr once again going to the box. Wildcats made them pay as Schultz scored and got himself a hat trick and tied things back up 4-4. Just a few minutes later, they retook the lead with a goal from Mike DeAngelis, assisted by Shannon and John Higgins.
“We got a jump on them and they came back,” said Schultz. “We got a little down, but we had to keep that positivity up on the bench and the locker room. We came back after the second period and that was the number one thing, positive, positive, positive. We had to keep our heads up no matter what and that’s how we were going to get through this game and it showed.”
The offense continued as the Wildcats made it 6-4 with a power play goal from James Kasch assisted by Duffy. The Gamecocks could not respond as the Wildcats scored kicked it into gear and found the back of th net three more times with goals from Shannon, Kasch, who scored an empty net power play goal, and DeAngelis again. In the end, the Gamecocks fell to the Wildcats 9-4. The Wildcats advance to the semi finals where they will play Arkansas at 8pm on Saturday, February 10th.