The Georgia Ice Dawgs have called The Classic Center home since April 9, 2014, in a 6-3 victory over Georgia Tech. The match was played in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,197 in what is now called the Akins Ford Arena, signifying the start of a new style of entertainment in Athens.
Before then, the Ice Dawgs were forced to travel to the Atlanta Ice Forum in Duluth, Georgia, where games were played in front of few and without the atmosphere that exists at Georgia’s matches today.
“When the team was playing in Duluth, it was pretty much just the parents that would come,” senior Austin Krusko said. “There really wasn’t a big fan base. Even the people that love UGA and the students here just weren’t too interested in making that hour long drive.”
It wasn’t long before the Ice Dawgs’ home established its value. During the 2015-16 season — their second full season at The Classic Center — the Ice Dawgs won their first South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference Championship.
They continued by winning two of the next three SECHC championships, as well as qualifying for back-to-back American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 National Championships in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
However, in late January or early February of every season, the Ice Dawgs have to move across the street to The Classic Center’s Foundry Pavilion, an outdoor venue that eliminates some fan attraction due to cold weather and less seating.
But soon enough, the Ice Dawgs won’t have to use the Foundry Pavilion.
In July 2019, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission added a proposal to provide $34 million toward the construction of a new arena at The Classic Center to the Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax 2020 project list. Voters approved the project — one with a larger permanent seating capacity of 5,500 — when they passed the SPLOST 2020 referendum in November. Concerts and other entertainment events will also be held in the future arena, which doesn’t have an expected completion date yet, Director of Arena and Ancillary Services Danny Bryant said.
It gives the Ice Dawgs a permanent home for games and creates a significant advantage for future players, as they won’t have to resort to practicing on the local YMCA field before the ice rink is put together in October. The new arena will remain within walking distance from North Campus.
The arena will also play a role in attracting potential players. It creates an advantage against other schools in the SECHC, like Florida, which practices and plays in Jacksonville, Florida, nearly 75 miles away from its campus in Gainesville, Florida.
“The arena is going to validate and put a big stamp on what we’re trying to build,” head coach Rick Emmett said. “Players from coast to coast will take notice about being able to play a club sport that has the facilities that we’ll have.”
The Ice Dawgs have managed to create a new passion in the Athens area that can expand once the arena is built.
“The arena will do nothing but further the excitement and interest for our fan base,” Emmett said. “People will want to come and see what the venue is all about, to be a part of that and see what [hockey] has to offer.”