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Clemson ice hockey ready to ‘play as gritty as we can’ against South Carolina

Leah Marie Pereira
Captain Thomas Samuelsen (13) skates away from a defender during Clemson’s game against South Carolina on Nov. 3, 2023.

Clemson club ice hockey will play its final regular-season game — and the last leg of the Palmetto Cup, the team’s annual rivalry series with the Gamecocks — against South Carolina this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville.

So far this season, the Tigers (14-10-1) are 0-1-1 against their rival, falling short in consecutive games earlier this season. Three months ago, they were defeated 6-2 on Nov. 3 and 5-4 in overtime one week later on Nov. 10. Despite competing in a division below the Gamecocks, Clemson proved that it can play at South Carolina’s level.

In the contest on Nov. 10, the Gamecocks (16-6-1) got on the board first but were quickly forced to step up their game when Clemson took a 3-1 lead in just seven minutes of play. Deadlocked in a 4-4 tie at the end of regulation, the Tigers forced overtime with their rivals for the first time since 2020.

Now, Clemson is more confident than ever. Last weekend, the Tigers traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, for the College Hockey South DII playoffs and placed second. After pulling off two unforeseen upsets against No. 3 Florida in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Florida Atlantic in the semifinals, Clemson advanced to the championship game for the first time in club history, where they ultimately lost 4-1 to the Tennessee Volunteers.

“I think playoffs gave us a confidence boost like we’ve never had before,” Clemson forward Tommy Papa said. “The final game hurts, but we had a tournament to be proud of. We’ve always known how good we can be, and we finally showed it at playoffs this year.

“There’s a belief in ourselves that I haven’t seen in years past. I think after that run, we’re all more motivated to win these big games than ever, and having that confidence is really important when it comes to winning.”

Goalkeeper Matt Caldwell added to his teammate’s sentiment.

“Hopefully, we as a team can take what we learned from playing a lot of good teams this past weekend into this game,” he said. “South Carolina is obviously a really talented squad, so it’ll be a really good time to show that (last) weekend wasn’t just a Cinderella run.”

Much of the squad’s motivation is internal; for many of Clemson’s players, this game will be their last opportunity to defeat the Gamecocks.

“There’s an endless amount of reasons for us to be motivated for this game,” Papa said. “But most of all, (we want to win) for the guys who have been around for so long. This is their last game against South Carolina. They’re the reason this team is as good as it is right now; they’ve built it into something we can all be proud of, and they deserve to beat South Carolina on the biggest stage we’re gonna get. We really are a family here; we all care so much, and to win it for those guys would be awesome.”

Additional motivation for both teams lies in the prospect of defeating their rival on a bigger stage than either program is used to. Like last season, Clemson and South Carolina’s game on Saturday will take place at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, home of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits. The Palmetto Cup will precede the Swamp Rabbits’ military appreciation night, and Clemson anticipates a much larger audience than they are used to.

“I think what I’m looking forward to most is just the experience,” Papa said. “It’s not something most players get to be a part of, and the rivalry is always fun.”

While the Tigers are fired up after their historic weekend, they know it won’t be an easy win; they’ll have to put up a fight — perhaps literally.

“There’s no doubt the game’s gonna be a battle,” Papa said. “I think we all know we’re gonna have to play as gritty as we can and battle for every inch if we wanna win this game. It’s gonna take every guy giving it their all for a full 60 minutes, and I know that’s something we’re all prepared to do.”

Tickets for Saturday’s game, which includes admission into both Clemson and the Swamp Rabbits’ game that follows, are available here. The Tigers encourage everyone to come out and support them one last time this season.

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Kelly Kaelblein, Asst. Sports Editor
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