Story by Danimarie Roselle • Photos by Taylor Sutton & Brenna Beech
The UGA Ice Dogs have brought a new chill to the Classic City this fall. Playing the first season ever in Athens, the Ice Dogs now call the Classic Center home.
Bringing the team to the Classic City was no easy feat. To have a rink, the team had to find someone with a vision and the financial support to build one. As David Brooks, president of the UGA Hockey Foundation, explains, Athens-Clarke County approved the purchase and no tax dollars were used — just a loan taken out by the Classic Center.
“The process started with a few individuals’ knowledge and working behind the scenes to get everything lined up for a presentation,” Brooks says.
Established in 1987, the Ice Dogs were founded by a group of students, including Larry Hall, who hoped to create a new tradition at the University of Georgia. Today, the Ice Dogs compete in the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Being a member of the team is a major commitment with away games, tournaments, and practice. Prior to the 2014 season, that commitment meant traveling out to the Ice Forum in Duluth, which is about a 40-mile drive.
“It’s a major commitment, but it’s worth it at the end of the day,” says John Wutschel, a sophomore mathematics major from Marietta.
In addition to on-ice work, the team participates in many functions off the ice. For Wutschel, that includes fundraising, school visits and ticket sales.
“We do a lot of promotional work,” says Wutschel, a forward for the team. “There’s a lot more that goes into producing UGA hockey than what you see at the game.”
With a closer rink, the players not only have easier access to practice but also have more of an opportunity to play in front of peers and classmates. The Classic Center rink features a student section, as well as tickets discounted at $2.
“Fans can expect the most exciting, fastest and hard-hitting sport they have ever seen,” says Brooks on the first season in Athens. “It’s nothing like watching TV.”
The Ice Dogs played their first game in the Classic City on April 9, 2014, to a sold-out crowd. The team was able to come out with a win, fueling the already rowdy audience.
Though having the rink in Athens is a big perk, being a part of the team is what really matters to the Ice Dawgs.
“When I first started, I had no idea how much it’d impact me,” says Stephen Bray, a junior engineering major from Prattville, Al. Some of his best friends have come from the team.
“The team is pretty much my family, and bonds between players form extremely quick,” Bray says.
This season, the team hopes for a more permanent rink for Athens where youth teams and adult leagues can be developed. In addition, the team would like to continue building their student section and keeping the tradition of UGA hockey alive. The Ice Dogs will be playing throughout the month of February. You can support them at the Classic Center through February 8.