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Clemson ice hockey completes 4-goal comeback, upsets Florida in playoffs

Victoria Adkins
Clemson celebrates a goal during its outdoor game against Georgia on Jan. 19.

Coming into the College Hockey South (CHS) Division II playoffs as the No. 6 seed, the Clemson club ice hockey team overcame a three-goal deficit on Friday to upset the No. 3 seed Florida Gators, 4-3.

The Gators scored the only goal of the first period at 2:23 to take an early lead. Florida’s Michael Katz netted consecutive goals to open the middle frame–one at 3:43 and another at 10:48–to extend Florida’s lead to 3-0 halfway through the game.

To everyone but Clemson, the game seemed all but in hand for Florida. Until it wasn’t.

Despite trailing 3-0 midway through the contest, Clemson responded with four unanswered goals, the last of which was a game-winner with less than two minutes left, to take home its first playoff win.

Neither team found the back of the net within the first 3:38 of 3-on-3, but with 1:22 remaining, Herb Kopf, with help from Santiago Diaz, fired home the game-winning goal. Clemson’s bench erupted as the goal horn sounded, players flying onto the ice to celebrate.

“Obviously, it feels great to score,” Kopf said of his game-winner. “But I’m more just proud of our team for fighting back to get there. It’s one of the biggest wins we’ve had, so everyone was pumped.”

Here’s how the Tigers got there:

Fifty-eight seconds after Katz tallied his second goal, Kopf, assisted by Cade Heinold, shot bar down to put Clemson on the board and finish the period with some momentum swinging its way.

During that second intermission, a switch flipped for the Tigers.

“Ronan (Bryant) got the boys going… (he got) everyone on board that this was a playoff game, and all we could do was play for each other. We knew we could come back if we did that,” Kopf said.

Clemson captain Thomas Samuelsen came out firing in the third. Shortly after his high-sticking penalty expired, Samuelsen followed Kopf’s example and shot bar down to bring Clemson within one. Callum Chaye also recorded a point on the goal.

With 2:44 left in regulation, Clemson’s Will Van Sicklin stuffed the puck through a mass of bodies and into the net to tie the game at 3-3.

By this point, the Tigers were experiencing some deja vu; last weekend, Clemson came back from a three-goal deficit to tie Middle Tennessee State at 6-6 and force overtime. While that matchup ended in a draw, this playoff contest required a winner.

“Last weekend’s comeback against MTSU was pivotal to our success and the program as a whole,” Samuelsen said after the game. “That game taught us that we are never out of it and that as long as we have a good attitude, anything is possible. I fully believe that if we didn’t have that comeback last weekend, we would not have had the same outcome tonight.”

With the win, Clemson advanced to the semifinal round of the CHS playoffs, where the Tigers will face Florida Atlantic, the No. 1 seed.

“Tomorrow, our expectations are the same,” Samuelsen said. “We have nothing to lose, and no one expects us to win the tournament, so we might as well go out there and give it all we got. Florida Atlantic is definitely a favorite to win the tournament, so there is definitely some pressure on them. I think we can use that to our advantage and go out there tomorrow and just have fun with it and give it our all.”

The Tigers also believe this experience is crucial to their future success.

“The win tonight will be key to our success in the future,” Samuelsen added. “It taught us that we are never out of the game and that if we all buy in, anything is possible. As we come down the stretch with playoffs, USC and nationals, it could not have come at a better time. The win tonight was exactly what we needed to prove to ourselves that we are a contender and that if we just focus on what we can control, the outcome will be favorable for us.”

Clemson forward Alex Wallace echoed his teammate’s sentiment.

“Everyone underestimates us,” he said. “If we bring our speed and our game, I think that we can beat anyone we play.”

Clemson’s game against Florida Atlantic will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. All games are streamed on the CHS YouTube channel.

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Kelly Kaelblein
Kelly Kaelblein, Asst. Sports Editor
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