For the Georgia club ice hockey team, the 2016-17 season is not one that will soon be forgotten.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season with an 18-1-1 record, swept their way to their second Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference championship in as many years, and battled through the ACHA South Region to clinch a berth in the National Tournament for just the fourth time in program history and first time in over a decade.
The magical season ultimately came to an end in Columbus, Ohio, as Georgia opened up the National Tournament with back-to-back losses to Oakland University and Bryn Athyn College on March 14 and March 15, respectively.
Georgia was able to salvage a 7-3 win over Missouri State University on March 16, but the victory was not enough for the Bulldogs to advance out of Pool B and into the next round of the tournament.
Less than a week after their first-round exit in the national tournament, both players and coaches were able to reflect on the season and the accomplishments garnered along the way.
“We set out some lofty goals for ourselves this season, hoping to carry off of the momentum of winning the SECHC last year,” Georgia head coach Rick Emmett said. “We obviously wanted to get off to a strong start and build momentum, and we did. We wanted to win the SECHC, and we were able to check that off.”
Emmett stated that another goal of Georgia’s was finishing in the top two of the ACHA South Region regular season standings in order to receive an automatic bid to the national tournament. Unfortunately for Georgia, the path wasn’t so simple.
Georgia finished third in the South Region, placing them in the ACHA South Regional alongside Ole Miss, Kennesaw State, Central Florida, South Florida, South Carolina, Liberty and UNC Wilmington.
The Bulldogs downed Ole Miss, 11-2, and Kennesaw State, 8-3, to clinch a bid to the national tournament.
Although not necessarily the easiest path for Georgia to take to get to Nationals, the Regional Tournament provided the best moment of the year for Georgia junior and team president Alex Carey.
“There were two minutes left in our final regional game against Kennesaw State and we were winning 8-3,” Carey said. “It just started to sink in that unless the wheels fall of the wagon in a huge way, we’re going to Nationals. There was an overall sense of satisfaction in seeing where we’re going in relation to where we came from. That’s for sure my favorite hockey moment in my time at Georgia.”
Carey certainly tasted his fair share of success in both his sophomore and junior seasons with Georgia; claiming two conference championships and helping lead his team to the national tournament.
However, just three years ago, that seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream.
“In my first year here, I didn’t even know what Nationals was,” Carey said. “Then right toward the end of last year, people started to talk about us making waves and maybe making a run to nationals. I didn’t even know what it meant to go to the National Tournament.”
Despite not bringing a national championship back to Athens, the Bulldogs reached all of the goals they set out for themselves prior to the 2016-17 season.
Georgia will be losing ten seniors next season, but will be returning its three largest offensive threats in Carey, Caleb Santa Maria and Christopher Santa Maria.
While the loss of a large group of seniors can lead to unanswered questions about how the team will transition, one thing is for certain: when the season rolls around once again this coming September, Georgia will take the ice to defend its title as back-to-back SECHC champions.