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From humbled to historic: Clemson ice hockey’s season to remember

Toby Corriston
Clemson celebrates a goal during its game against South Carolina at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Feb. 24.

Last season, the Clemson club ice hockey team missed the College Hockey South playoffs and received its first-ever bid to the AAU National Championship tournament — but only after another team dropped out.

One year later, the team posted its best record in club history. They played for the CHS Division II championship trophy and advanced to the AAU nationals quarterfinal round as the tournament’s No. 11 seed, both for the first time in club history.

For Clemson — the very same team that had not sported a winning record in any of its current players’ careers, including a three-win 2019-20 season — this year was characterized by a series of firsts to remember.

Despite opening the season in August with a loss to Georgia, the Tigers went on to post a 10-4-0 record in the fall semester alone, marking the team’s first 10-win season since 2014-15 (13-5-0). Though Clemson fell short in its first six games of the spring semester, the team bounced back for a 17-12-1 overall record and secured a spot in the CHS playoffs for the first time in two years.

Seeded No. 6 of eight teams in the playoffs, Clemson faced off against the No. 3 Florida Gators in round one. No one, perhaps not even the Tigers themselves, expected the 4-3 upset.

Down 3-0 with less than 10 minutes left in the second period, Clemson’s Herb Kopf set the tone for the remainder of the matchup when he netted the Tigers’ opening goal. Team captain Thomas Samuelsen and Will Van Sicklin struck twice more for Clemson during the third period, forcing the contest into overtime. With 1:22 left in the five-minute overtime period, Kopf netted the game-winner, solidifying the four-goal comeback and sending Clemson to the second round of the playoffs.

The following day, the Tigers took on the No. 1 Florida Atlantic Owls. Samuelsen got his team on the board first, but Clemson’s lead quickly diminished as Florida Atlantic netted three consecutive goals for a comfortable 3-1 lead by the latter half of the second period.

Like the day before, Clemson went on to score five goals before the contest’s end — two from Cade Heinold, two from Kopf and one from Van Sicklin — to upset the Owls 6-4 and advance to the CHS Championship game for the first time in program history. While the Tigers eventually took the second-place title, falling short to the Tennessee Volunteers in the final, the team’s performance proved just how much heart is in these hills.

“The team’s resiliency stood out to me the most this season,” defenseman Conor Peterson told The Tiger. “There are many examples of games that we were down this year, most importantly facing FAU, and we kept our heads down and kept fighting to get the win. Our team’s biggest takeaway from this year is that games are never over until we’re shaking hands with the other team.”

Clemson closed out its season at the AAU National Tournament in West Chester, Pennsylvania, early last month. Last season, the Tigers suffered a 4-1 loss to the Niagara Purple Eagles in their first game of the tournament, hindering their ability to advance. This season, after defeating the Liberty Flames, the Bishops Gaiters and the Vanderbilt Commodores to sweep its pool, Clemson advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in program history.

Despite falling 6-4 to the High Point Panthers in the quarterfinals, the Tigers look back fondly on their performance that week with pride in the resiliency and drive that allowed them to play for so long.

Motivated by both successes and failures, the Tigers will look to roar even louder next season and achieve a couple more firsts.

“Our biggest goal for next year is to make it back to Nationals and bring some hardware back to Clemson,” Peterson said.

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About the Contributors
Kelly Kaelblein
Kelly Kaelblein, Asst. Sports Editor
Toby Corriston, Asst. Photo Editor
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