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Georgia forward Caleb Santa Maria (9) brings the puck around the goal. The Ice Dawgs fell in overtime to Kennesaw State with a final score 4-5 on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Ryan Cameron rcameron@randb.com)

Life after Caleb Santa Maria began for the Georgia hockey team last weekend, as the Ice Dawgs played and lost games against Clemson and South Carolina without its star senior forward in the starting lineup.

Santa Maria suffered a knee injury early in Georgia’s 4-3 win against Georgia Tech on Jan. 18 in the Savannah Hockey Classic. Head coach Rick Emmett said Santa Maria is expected to miss the rest of the season.

The Ice Dawgs lost 3-2 against Clemson Friday and 8-3 against South Carolina Saturday. Georgia struggled offensively without Santa Maria, scoring just five combined goals against both teams.

Emmett expected Friday’s game against Clemson to be a difficult turnaround after an emotional weekend in the Savannah Hockey Classic, where his team defeated Florida and Georgia Tech to win the Thrasher Cup for the ninth time since 1999.

“We knew [Clemson] was going to be a bit of an issue,” Emmett said. “The discipline was a factor for our guys.”

After the close loss to Clemson, the Ice Dawgs went on the road to play a South Carolina team that ranks in the top 5 of the ACHA rankings. Despite an early 4-0 first period deficit, the Ice Dawgs outscored the Gamecocks in the second period 2-0 to put the game in reach heading into the third period.

Then, South Carolina scored four goals to Georgia’s one, giving the Ice Dawgs their ninth regular season loss.

Emmett attributed a large South Carolina crowd as a factor that affected the Ice Dawgs’ performance.

“It was probably the biggest attendance night they’ve ever had,” Emmett said. “There’s a lot of emotion for them to feed off of.”

Emmett also mentioned other key personnel losses for the Ice Dawgs on Saturday night, with junior forward Seth Johnston leaving the game after a major penalty, and senior forward Jack Ryan not dressing for the game after coming down with the flu.

With both losses, the Ice Dawgs fall to 12-9-2 on the season with two remaining games in their regular season. They will play Tennessee on Jan. 31 and Auburn on Feb. 1 with both games at The Classic Center’s Foundry Pavilion.

Emmett said the team will be juggling different line combinations as the Ice Dawgs look ahead to the end of the regular season and as the SEC Hockey Conference Championships, which take place at Ford Ice Center in Nashville on Feb. 7.

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