Story by: Mason Wittner / The Red & Black
For the second season in a row, Georgia’s club ice hockey team reigns as champions of the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The Ice Dawgs (21-1-1) knocked out Auburn, 12-2, and South Carolina, 5-4, before trouncing Ole Miss, 9-2, in the SECHC championship game.
Sophomore Christopher Santa Maria took home SECHC tournament MVP honors.
Prior to the semi-final round, the SECHC named Ice Dawgs head coach Rick Emmett as the season's Coach of the Year, while Ryan Bray took home SECHC MVP honors.
“To win Coach of the Year, you obviously have to have a great support system and group of assistants around you,” Emmett said. “That’s nothing short of what I have with our team. It’s one of those community awards, and you’re only as good as the people around you. It’s an indication of where we are as an organization and team and it’s a very proud award for all of us.”
Georgia entered the SECHC tournament on Feb. 10 as the No. 1 seed and squared off against No. 8 seed Auburn in the opening round.
The Ice Dawgs – whose ability to score at will is largely responsible for their nearly unblemished regular season record – had no issue getting off to a quick start as they had done for much of the season. Goals from Cam Gilmore and Alex Carey gave the Ice Dawgs a 2-0 lead over the Tigers with 14:31 remaining in the opening period.
Auburn cut its deficit in half with a goal, but Georgia’s lead quickly reassembled as Bray, Carey, and Caleb Santa Maria each found the back of the net to give the Ice Dawgs a 5-1 advantage heading to the second period.
Bray opened the second with a pair of goals – completing a hat trick. Santa Maria scored once again and Georgia found itself in absolute control with an 8-1 lead going into the third period.
The Ice Dawgs saw their lead go as high as 11 before an Auburn goal in the final minute made the final score 12-2 in favor of Georgia.
In addition to the offensive outburst, the Ice Dawgs allowed only 17 shots on goal while compiling 75 of their own against the Tigers.
Georgia drew a second round match with No. 5 seed South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 11 – a day after the Gamecocks knocked off No. 4 seed Florida, 4-2.
Following a scoreless first period, the Ice Dawgs used a pair of goals to take a 2-0 lead in the second period. The lead was short-lived, however, as the Gamecocks scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-2 lead at the 3:10 mark in the second.
Back-to-back goals for Georgia gave it a 4-3 lead early in final period, but South Carolina countered with a goal to tie it at 4-apiece with 14:45 left to play.
After over ten minutes of gridlock, the Ice Dawgs scored with 2:49 to go to take the lead for the final time and hold on for a 5-4 victory.
The Ice Dawgs faced No. 3 seed Ole Miss in the championship game on Sunday, Feb 12.
Georgia got off to a slow start for the second straight game, falling behind 2-0 to Ole Miss with 8:42 to go in the first period.
The Ice Dawgs were able to get one goal back, taking a 2-1 deficit into the second period. A Perry Holcombe slapshot from the left side of the net tied the game at 2-2.
Georgia added an additional pair of goals and took a 4-2 lead over the Rebels into the third period.
Inside the final twenty minutes of the tournament, the Ice Dawgs ever-dangerous offense woke up.
Georgia shut down the Rebels offense while finding the back of the net five times in the third period for a 9-2 win over Ole Miss – claiming its second conference championship in as many years.
“Winning the SECHC was a goal of ours from the beginning of the season,” Emmett said. “We wanted to continue the growth of the team and continue our success. The guys faced some adversity throughout the tournament, trailing at times against both South Carolina and Ole Miss. But, I liked the way they fought through it. We were still able to play the way we have been all season and it paid off.”