The Ice Dawgs, the University of Georgia’s intercollegiate hockey team, have been around for 31 seasons which may come as a surprise to many familiar with the Classic City of Athens.
While the Ice Dawgs have been playing in an enclosed arena for some time, they recently moved outside for their last four games, competing in real hockey weather, given the intense cold spell Athens has experienced in recent weeks.
I was there last weekend, taking along my friend Matt Brinkley, who, like his companion, is a life-long Southerner who knows as much about hockey as he does Dorset Knob throwing in England. It turned out to be a shopping outing for my friend in that he was smitten by the red and white stocking caps (Ice Dawg colors) and purchased a couple to ward against a continuation of the cold spell.
We had the good sense to dress as if we were going onto the frozen tundra to sight a polar bear. I am happy to report we dressed properly enough that we did not freeze over. And, glory, glory we witnessed an exciting game between Georgia and Clemson, the Ice Dawgs prevailing, 5-0. That final score clinched first place in the SECHC—the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Our experience was heightened by the hospitality of Danny Bryant, the Classic Center Arena’s general manager who ushered us to where a suspended heater enhanced our comfort. Danny, a native of Michigan, knows the ways of life outdoors in winter—in addition to hockey, such outdoor activities as ice skating, snowboarding, skiing, and ice fishing—none of which takes place where the vernacular of the locals includes the expression, “y’all.” Danny also knows about taking the misery out of an outdoor experience when a couple of tenderfoots come out of the warmth into the cold.
While I had taken in hockey when the Atlanta Thrashers were in Atlanta (wonder if Danny knows about the Thrashers and their connection with our state bird) and the Flames before them, I have minimalist enlightenment with this sport, but I was energized by the body slams into the glass, elbows flying and sticks slicing and dicing. There was plenty of muscular action, and I was quickly reminded that hockey IS a contact sport. Once the puck slammed against the perimeter glass with such a piercing crescendo, I thought I might be at a midtown Atlanta nightclub.
I remember a team doctor for the Flames relating how a home team player came skating into the medical bay at the old Omni with a split lip, advising the physician to “sew it up.” The doctor reached for his injection needle to deaden the offending tissue. “To hell with that,” the player advised. As soon as the doctor stitched him up, the player wiped the blood off his mouth, skated out, and advised: “Don’t go anywhere Doc, the guy that split my lip will be in here needing your help any minute.”
Collegiate hockey is nothing of the sort, but my guess is that when the players woke up Sunday morning stiff joints and sore muscles prevailed.
Jack Crowley, a one-time dean at UGA, has been allowing that the Ice Dawgs are a great attraction which means Danny and Paul Cramer, President and CEO are angling to make the new arena the place to be in Athens after Sanford Stadium and Stegman Coliseum.
The Ice Dawgs are now ranked No. 2 in the country and could eventually play for the national championship, which will take place in Philadelphia in March. They have won several SECHC championships and individual honors would fill the Classic Center itself if it were turned into a trophy room. There have been 42 Academic All-America selections. Even though this is a physical game, collegiate hockey is not all brawn.
The new arena, which will seat 5,500, is coming about via SPLOST funding and a bond issue that will allow for more and bigger capacity for conventions. The day will soon come when there will be a hockey contest one night, a resonating concert the next night, and an overflowing convention the third night. This facility will move Athens to the head of the class for a city of its size.
The economic impact of this facility will surpass $30 million dollars a year for the local economy. It will add 90,000 room nights annually to local motel budgets. In other words, the Ice Dawgs are not only a hot attraction, they are the face of a new economy coming our way—and remain a classic attraction for a Classic City.