Georgia’s club ice hockey team plays all of its home games less than a mile away from campus, but for the first four or five weeks of the season, the Ice Dawgs hold their practices roughly 47 miles away from the university.
Although housed at the Classic Center in downtown Athens throughout the entirety of the regular season, the Ice Dawgs commute to the IceForum in Duluth for practice in the month prior to it.
“It’s not ideal because most of the time you’re leaving Athens at 7:00 to get to Duluth at 8:00,” senior captain Ryan Bray said. “And then you practice from 9:30 until 10:50 or 11:00 at night. After practice, you’re getting in your car and driving back to Athens and getting there at midnight or later. Then, you wake up for you 8 a.m. class or studying.”
Due to the commute, the Ice Dawgs are often forced to put limits on their practice time for the first month of the preseason.
When in Athens, holding two or three practices a week is a non-issue as seemingly everyone is within a 10-minute radius of the Classic Center. However, during the time in which they commute to Duluth, the team will usually hold two practices a week for the first two weeks of the season and only one practice a week for the next three weeks leading up to the season.
“You can’t really do too many practices in one week, because who wants to drive forty miles to Duluth every single day?” Bray said. “Whereas when we have the rink up in Athens, we can practice two to three times a week because it’s five minutes from everyone’s house. The Classic Center is really accessible to anyone in Athens, and we can get the ice from 6:00 to 7:30. It’s a lot more convenient for everyone.”
Although an inconvenience, it is a large step up for the program from where it was a short three years ago.
“I know we’re in Duluth a little bit more this year in comparison to last year,” Ice Dawgs head coach Rick Emmett said. “I think the guys that are coming in now can actually appreciate the time we are spending in Duluth. The team, before three seasons ago, was solely going to Duluth for practice and games.”
In addition to traveling difficulties, the Ice Dawgs also face the issue that all other club sports face as well — a lack of funding.
As is the normality for most club sports programs at Georgia, the team receives roughly 4 percent of their total operating budget from the university. The team makes up for the remaining 96 percent through a combination of paid dues, fundraising and sponsorships.
“I honestly think that somewhere down the line someone is going to realize that there is a market for hockey in Athens,” senior captain Alex Carey said. “It’s not very big right now because we don’t have the same marketing budget as other teams. I think if someone down the line were to give donation to build a rink or something like that, it would change things.”