The University of Georgia club ice hockey team hosted this season's Puck Drop at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2018. The team's South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference trophy was on display at the event. (Photo/Vira Halim, www.virahalim.wordpress.com)

At the end of every January, the Georgia club hockey team abruptly changes their home rink. The Ice Dawgs play a majority of their games in Akins Ford Arena at the Classic Center then move across the street to play at the 440 Foundry Pavilion, an outdoor venue subject to the whims of the weather. In the fall, the ice rink has to be reinstalled at Akins Ford Arena.

Classic Center employees aren't the only ones responsible for disassembling and assembling the rinks. The players are required to help, although they ensure that the freshmen do most of the work.

Future Georgia hockey players may no longer have to worry about this tedious task. The Classic Center is in the early stages of planning a new permanent 6,000-seat arena located on Hickory Street in downtown Athens.

The design concepts were presented at Georgia’s second annual Puck Drop on Thursday, a preseason gathering of players, coaches, sponsors, fans and media.

Danny Bryant, the Classic Center’s director of arena and ancillary services, laid out the time table for the project.

“The call for projects is this fall,” Bryant said. “That is when anybody in the community can submit a project. I believe then they will decide projects in early 2019. If we get selected for the package, then the vote will be next November. If the vote passed, we would start going from there.”

If Athens-Clarke County residents approve it, the new arena would also host concerts, which would be more likely to fill up the entire venue.

“We’re not building 6,000 [seats] necessarily for hockey,” Bryant said. “That is more for concerts and things like that we would do in there. But I think we could fill a really good portion of it and have it be a really awesome thing for them.”

While the program may not be able to attract 6,000 fans each game, there is a growing buzz surrounding the team. The Ice Dawgs have qualified for the ACHA Division 3 national championship two years in a row. The energy was palpable at the Puck Drop, which saw greater attendance than last year, according to head coach Rick Emmett.

Jonas Lovering, a season ticket holder for three years, couldn’t be more thrilled for the new arena.

“It would be fantastic,” Lovering said. “It would be a real arena.”

Emmett pointed out how the Ice Dawgs are currently more fortunate than most SEC teams and that a new arena would be an even bigger advantage down the road.

“Our guys can walk to practice,” he said. “Ninety percent of the teams have to get in a car and drive 45 minutes…[The new arena] will be huge. Obviously it’s being built for reasons other than hockey, but we are a beneficiary of that, being part of the Classic Center family.

"That’s just going to take us to a status of eliteness with a facility that nobody else will have.”

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