University of Georgia
The University of Georgia Ice Hockey Team was established in 1987 by Larry Hall and a small group of students that wanted to bring hockey to the University. Known informally as the Ice Dawgs, they now compete in the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC) of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), and play under NCAA rules. Georgia faces-off against familiar SEC opponents including Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU & South Carolina. Other southern opponents include Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, and many of the other teams in the South region of ACHA Division III.
The Georgia hockey program made great strides under the leadership of John Hoos. The Birmingham, Michigan native played high school and junior hockey before coming to Athens, where he played for the Ice Dawgs as both a center and a defenseman. He was named a College Hockey South All-Star four times, and set school records for points per game and career points that remained intact for over a decade. In 1999, Hoos was named head coach and general manager of the hockey club. Working with Kenny Day, Steve Durrigan and Brandon Hudson, Hoos played a significant role in the establishment of the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference. “Rivalries cultivate the growth of a sport,” Hoos was quoted as saying in a 2014 issue of The Red&Black. “I wanted hockey to have the same level of SEC rivalry that other Georgia sports have, and now we do.”
Home games and practices were traditionally played in the Atlanta area due to the lack of a suitable facility in Athens. Hoos and members of the UGA Hockey Foundation (the non-profit organization that provides funding for the ice hockey program) conducted a survey to see if Athens area residents had any interest in attending hockey games, public skating sessions and ice shows if a rink were to open near the campus. In a matter of weeks, the survey generated more than 2,500 messages of support. When Hoos and UGA Hockey Foundation President David Brooks presented the results to The Classic Center’s Executive Director Paul Cramer and its Board of Directors, it was met with a lot of enthusiasm.
The Classic Center put together a plan that included the purchase of retractable seating for roughly 2,500 spectators, a scoreboard and a portable ice rink that could be assembled and disassembled throughout the year. The Athens-Clarke County Board of Commissioners voted to approve funding of the proposal in the fall of 2013. Working with Ice-America, the Classic Center purchased The Ice-World system that allows the installation of a hockey rink in as little as 36 hours and teardown in as few as 24 hours. Akins Ford of Winder partnered with The Classic Center to sponsor Akins Arena, which can host events with arena-style seating for up to 2,000 attendees and concerts/shows for up to 5,000 attendees in downtown Athens, just a few blocks from the campus.
Watch how the main ballroom inside The Classic Center in downtown Athens is transformed into a hockey arena for the Ice Dawgs
The inaugural game at Akins Arena was played on April 9, 2014 in front of a sellout crowd of 2,197 as the Ice Dawgs defeated Georgia Tech 6-3.
L-R: UGA Hockey VP Luke Dixon, Head Coach John Hoos, UGA Hockey Foundation President David Brooks and The Classic Center Executive Director Paul Cramer speak to the media prior to the inaugural hockey game in Athens.
An ice level view of the sellout crowd at the inaugural hockey game in The Classic Center on April 9, 2014
In December, 2014, Hoos and the UGA Hockey Club parted ways, with Hoos accepting a position with the University of Central Florida as an assistant coach. Prior to the start of the 2015-16 season, the Ice Dawgs introduced Eric Linkowski as the team’s new head coach. Linkowski became the fourth head coach in the club’s history. According to UGA Hockey President Alex Carey, the hiring of Linkowski “marks not only a new coach, but a new era for UGA Hockey, one that I cannot wait to see where he leads us. His professional playing experience and elite coaching work to this point in his career will be invaluable to the players and staff.” The team also announced that Rick Emmett would join the 2015-16 coaching staff as an assistant coach. “I’m ecstatic that Coach Emmett has joined our program as an assistant coach,” UGA Hockey Vice President of External Operations Luke Dixon said. “To have someone with over 20 years of professional hockey experience as a player and coach who recognizes our program’s passion to grow and return to an elite level will be someone everyone will be able to learn from.”
The Ice Dawgs finished the 2015-16 season with a 20-2 record. The ACHA rankings predicted the team was a contender for the SECHC Championship in Nashville. The Ice Dawgs earned two victories to qualify for the final round of the Championship: 11-0 against Auburn University and 3-0 against Vanderbilt University. They played the University of Florida for the No. 1 title and won 7-4. While in Nashville, the team also participated in a rehearsal for the NHL All Star Skills Competition. The team qualified for ACHA Regionals in Orlando, Florida. They earned a 3-1 victory against Christopher Newport University. In the following game, the Ice Dawgs came up short 5-3 against Vanderbilt University, but it was a respectable conclusion to a memorable season.
Mike "Big Dawg" Woods was among those in attendance for the inaugural game in Athens
2013-14 also brought another first for the Ice Dawgs. Shelby Saponari became the first female to make the opening season roster for the Ice Dawgs. Saponari, who joined the club late in the previous season, grew up in a hockey family and took up the game to follow in the footsteps of her two brothers, one of whom was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008. Her father Gus played college hockey and served as an assistant coach for the Ice Dawgs.
The Ice Dawgs celebrate after capturing the 2016 SECHC Championship at the Ford Ice Arena in Nashville, Tennessee
In April, 2016, Rick Emmett was named head coach of the Ice Dawgs for the 2016-2017 season. Emmett served as assistant coach during the team’s 2015-16 SECHC Championship-winning season. “From an administrative standpoint, Coach Emmett has done everything you would expect of a head coach and excelled at it,” said Alex Carey, Ice Dawgs team captain. “He was a huge part of our success on and off the ice this past season, so the players and staff are ecstatic to have him on as head coach. We’re looking forward to another great season.”
The 2016-17 season marked the 30th anniversary of the UGA Hockey Team. The Ice Dawgs had an overall record of 24-1-0-1 and won their seventh Thrasher Cup at the Savannah Hockey Classic in January. In February at the SECHC Tournament, the Ice Dawgs knocked off Auburn, 12-2, South Carolina, 5-4, before overpowering Ole Miss, 9-2 in the championship game, capturing their second straight SECHC Championship. Sophomore Christopher Santa Maria was named the SECHC tournament MVP, while Ice Dawgs head coach Rick Emmett was named the season’s Coach of the Year and Ryan Bray took home SECHC MVP honors. The Ice Dawgs once again qualified for the ACHA National Tournament in Columbus, Ohio in March.
The 2016-17 University of Georgia Hockey Team
The 2017-18 Ice Dawgs had to replace both of their goaltenders from the previous season. Freshman netminder Emily Barber became the second female to make the season opening roster. Emily's father, Scott Barber, played on the inaugural hockey team in 1987. In 23 games, the Dawgs finished with a 17-5-1 record. In January 2018, the team came into the 20th annual Savannah Hockey Classic on a 12-game winning streak. The Ice Dawgs were heavily favored to repeat as Thrasher Cup champions and they did not disappoint, capturing their eighth title. In February, the Ice Dawgs came up short in their bid for a third consecutive SECHC Tournament Championship. After defeating Auburn 12-0, Georgia lost the semi-final game to arch rival Florida. Trailing 5-2 late in the third period, Georgia stormed back, but came up just short with a 6-5 loss. In February, the final ACHA regular season standings were released. The top two teams in each of the four regions (North, South, Atlantic, and Pacific) received automatic bids to the national tournament in Columbus, Ohio. The Ice Dawgs were ranked #2 in the South region, earning a trip to the Nationals for the second year in a row.