Fans in red and black jerseys will file down the escalators and make a left into the ballroom in The Classic Center Thursday night. It will be gameday in Athens.
When Georgia football finished its season, the lights turned off in Sanford Stadium until September. The Classic Center, however, will stay lit in more ways than one. The Georgia club hockey team gives Georgia fans and the city of Athens a unique experience with an atmosphere different from other celebrated sports at Georgia.
“Hockey in Athens is so much different than hockey anywhere else,” freshman hockey player Dylan Spicer said. “For one, our home rink is a conference center.”
The Athena Ballroom in The Classic Center is able to be quickly transformed into the Akins Ford Arena on gameday and becomes home to the Ice Dawgs. The Classic Center adds a removable rink that allows 2,000 fans to watch Georgia hockey in downtown Athens.
“Playing at The Classic Center is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” senior Jack Ryan said. “The amount of fans and the environment that it has is unbelievable. We even have people that travel to our games from different states.”
Spicer notes that the concept of hockey in the south is unique in itself. The Ice Dawgs give people who are born in the south — or people who don’t have access to a sport where skaters glide on ice — a chance to experience hockey.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t know about hockey down here,” Spicer said. “Some people may be seeing hockey for the first time. It’s pretty exciting for them. Once they come, they love it.”
Ryan believes that The Classic Center gives fans the opportunity to explore a different sport in the southeast in an upbeat and enthusiastic environment.
“The fans can be up close,” Ryan said. “[The Classic Center] serves alcohol and food. You can just enjoy yourself. Even if people don’t understand the concepts behind hockey — to be there and watch it — it’s so entertaining and fast-paced.”
Although hockey may be out of the ordinary for southern sports fans, it is quickly becoming part of the culture at Georgia.
Despite the fact the Ice Dawgs play only a club sport at Georgia, the team has grown and developed a loyal fanbase that includes a student section. Now, the team has entire groups of people that work on T-shirts, art design and videos, all of which have brought energy to the program.
“The fans can see something different after the football season is over,” Spicer said. “Basketball’s awesome, but you don’t have those big hits. It gives UGA fans something different, something unique.”
Ryan thinks the new year’s first matchup with Alabama at The Classic Center is the perfect time for new fans to see Georgia sports in a different light.
“You really don’t know how fun a hockey game is until you go,” he said. “They’re unlike anything else.”