UGA Beats USC 5-3 In Home Opener
Ice Dawgs push their record to 4-0
With a vivid new coat of paint on the fresh sheet of ice, the doors opened up at Akins Arena at the Classic Center for another season of Georgia Ice Dawgs hockey on Thursday night. Fans entered into the arena excited as they prepared to watch the University of Georgia take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in the team’s home opener.
The Ice Dawgs entered the game undefeated after taking out in-state foe Kennesaw State in the first game, and simply overpowering Liberty University the next two outscoring the Flames 24-6 over the two game series. South Carolina skated in on a streak of their own after defeating Vanderbilt and Tennessee in the last two games, leaving the Gamecocks at 3-1-0 on the young season.
The tempo was quickly set after puck drop with both teams coming out of the locker room playing a fast paced, physical game. After spending much of the opening minutes in the South Carolina zone, the Ice Dawgs were finally able to crack Bobby Lombardi, the Gamecocks goaltender, as Ryan Bray netted the opening tally. The senior forward was able to put home a set-up pass from defense-man Cam Gilmore, and UGA was ahead 1-0 with just under 4 minutes played in the game.
Georgia would quickly double their lead after Chris Santa-Maria found the back of the net just 2 minutes later. The sophomore out of Decatur, GA took advantage of a South Carolina turnover in front of the net for the easy power play goal.
Less than one minute of game time later, captain Alex Carey gave the Dawgs a commanding 3-0 lead. The senior was the recipient of a picture perfect breakout pass, and took advantage of the break away by deking out Lombardi with two quick moves for the shorthanded tally.
After a tripping call that sent South Carolina on the kill, Georgia’s lethal power play unit struck again with 8:21 remaining in the opening frame. Once again, it was Christopher Santa-Maria who was able to put the puck in from the back door. His second goal of the game was assisted by brother Caleb Santa-Maria and Alex Carey, who also notched his second point of the game with the helper.
The visiting Gamecocks were finally able to find the score sheet with 5:51 left in the first. Ian Schneider placed himself in front of the net where he was able to tip in a shot from teammate Geoffrey Kostrzebski. The goal signaled the first signs of life for South Carolina, as they still trailed 4-1.
With tempers rising as the period slowly ticked down, the Ice Dawgs managed to control their game and let cool heads prevail. Despite attempts from the Gamecocks to get Georgia in the penalty box, the team entered the locker room with a 4-1 lead in the first intermission.
Both teams seemed rejuvenated as they took to the ice for the second period, however, it was the Ice Dawgs that managed to control the early parts of the frame. South Carolina was able to put together a counter for the fast paced Georgia offense though, limiting the Dawgs to just two shots over a five-minute time frame.
As the period waned on, the teams remained locked in a tight battle. As both teams tried desperately to capitalize on their power play opportunities, the play of both goaltenders reigned supreme and the period ended the same way in which it started: 4-1 for the Ice Dawgs.
Hoping to seal the victory, Georgia stormed the gates to begin the third. Although as the period began the Ice Dawgs could not find the net, their physical presence was felt with hit after hit on the unsuspecting South Carolina skaters.
Georgia faced their biggest challenge late in the game. With both assistant captain Dan Fendius and Zach Flasch in the box, the Ice Dawgs found themselves in a 5-3 penalty kill with almost all the action in their defensive zone. Backed by stellar saves from Andrew Bray, the Dawgs were able to hold off the South Carolina attack until one man returned. However, after stopping the first three shot attempts, Bray finally had one slip past him and into the open net. Kyle Naros was the Gamecock who was able to make the score 4-2.
South Carolina, inspired by their goal earlier in the period, played their hardest hockey as the clock started to work against their favor. Desperate to change the tone of the game, The Ice Dawgs found an extra pep in their step and began to barrage Lombardi with chances from all angles. Christopher Santa-Maria was finally able to find an opening and sent it flying past the glove of Lombardi. Santa-Maria’s hat-trick goal was assisted by David Spielberger, and put the score at 5-2.
With just 45.3 seconds remaing, South Carolina came back with a goal of their own. Geoffrey Kostrzebski picked up his second point of the game by tapping in a shot in front of the net. The goal from the right-winger made it 5-3.
The South Carolina attacks proved to be too little, too late, as the Ice Dawgs held on to the 5-3 win. With the victory on home ice, Georgia improved to 4-0-0 on the year and picked up their first conference win as well. Up next the Dawgs take on Florida, as the Gators travel to the classic city for their first matchup of the season.