University of Georgia

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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. It was also the final game for team captain Peter Kacer, who scored 126 goals with 88 assists for 214 points during his four years with Georgia. 

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

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 dramatic fashion. After trailing Florida 4-1 after two periods on Friday night, the Dawgs fought all the way back to tie and force OT. Ryan Bray netted the game winner.

The 2016-17 University of Georgia Hockey Team

Two weeks after the Savannah Hockey Classic and needing to make up a couple of games that were cancelled due to winter weather earlier in the season, the Ice Dawgs came up with their own version of the NHL Winter Classic when they scheduled two outdoor games to be played in the 440 Foundry Pavilion against Clemson and Middle Tennessee State University. The Ice Dawgs defeated Clemson 3-1 and overwhelmed MTSU by the lopsided score of 21-0. The experiment proved to be so successful that it has become an annual tradition.

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.

In the 2018-19 season, the team continued to improve under the tutelage of Rick Emmett. The team has had a hot start during the fall semester portion of the schedule, finishing with a 9-2 record overall and a 2-1 record in the SECHC, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 78-46 through the first 11 games of the season. They finished the regular season with a 23-3 record and captured the 2019 SEC Hockey Conference Championship. The Ice Dawgs entered the SECHC Tournament as the #1 seed based on their conference play during the regular season. They defeated Tennessee by a score of 11-0 in the first game, then shutout Arkansas 4-0 in the semi-finals and faced off against Ole Miss in the Championship Game. The Ice Dawgs fell behind 2-0 but battled back with four unanswered goals to capture the SECHC title. 

Citing game scheduling issues that would interfere with academics, the team opted to not participate in ACHA Regional or National tournaments. “The Important thing we need to remember, our players are students first, athletes second,” assistant coach John Camp said. “They play for the love of the game and to represent UGA. They succeeded on numerous levels this season. Unfortunately, as it happens in life, not everything works in your favor. This year, we came out of Nashville as SECHC champions. There will not be any what if’s, rather the team proved who they are, and we will look forward to next season.”

Senior Carter Penzien was named the ACHA Men’s Division III South Region MVP, and was also named to the All-South Region First Team. He was joined by sophomore teammate Kyle Harris, who also received All-South Region First Team honors. Junior Caleb Santa Maria also was selected for the All-South Region Second Team.

Early in the 2019-20 campaign, the Ice Dawgs partnered with Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer (BBBC) and St. Mary’s Hospital of Athens for “Pink in the Rink” on October 17 and 18. The team wore special edition breast cancer jerseys during both games, which were auctioned off after Friday night’s game along with several other UGA hockey items. Additional money was raised through a pledge drive for every point the Ice Dawgs scored. Over $10,800 raised for Bulldogs Battling Breast Cancer & St. Mary's of Athens.

On April 4, 2020, the team announced a major change in their coaching staff. Assistant coach Brian Daley was named Head Coach for the 2020-2021 season. Assistant Coach John Camp took on the additional responsibilities of Director of Hockey Operations.

In July, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SECHC decided to delay the start of the 2020-21 season until January. In reality, there never was a season, and the only options available to the team was a handful of games in April. This was a huge disappointment to the graduating seniors, who had their season stolen away. In April, the Ice Dawgs participated in the Southern Soul Showdown Series, hosted by the SPHL Macon Mayhem at the Macon Coliseum. UGA split two games against Tennessee on April 9-10, dropping the first 7-4 and winning the second 9-3. The following weekend, the Ice Dawgs took two games from Auburn by 7-1 and 4-3 scores.

The last game in the COVID disrupted season was on April 24 at the Duluth Ice Forum versus Georgia Tech. The contest ended with some old-fashioned hate after UGA forward William MacDonald received a blind hit from behind from Aiden Hammond in the final seconds of the Ice Dawgs 5-2 win. Matt Bigda retaliated with a hit of his own on Hammond. Captain Kyle Harris, playing in his last game for the Ice Dawgs, then upended Tech goalkeeper Colin Fessler and the officials had to escort Harris off the ice as the captain was chased by a multitude of the Tech players.

In January, the Ice Dawgs participated in the EnMarket Savannah Hockey Classic. Georgia faced off against Florida on Friday, January 17th routing the Gators 6-2, backed by Freshman Owen Spreadbury in goal. The Ice Dawgs edged in-state rival Georgia Tech 4-3 on Saturday, taking home the Thrasher Cup for the ninth time in history.

Georgia entered the SECHC Championship Tournament in Bellevue, Tennessee hoping to defend their 2019 title. The Ice Dawgs beat rival Georgia Tech on Friday night 4-1 and moved on to face Arkansas on Saturday, losing a hard-fought game 2-1. Freshman goaltender Owen Spreadbury started both Friday and Saturday night totaling 51 saves on 54 shots. Georgia defeated Auburn on Sunday 5-4 to earn third place in the tournament. The Ice Dawgs finished the season 14-9-0 in SECHC play and 15-11-2 overall.

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 College Hockey South Conference (CHS) of the Collegiate Hockey Federation (CHF), 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 CHF 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.

Under Hoos' leadership, the Ice Dawgs compiled an overall record of 97-65-5 during the seven seasons between 2004 and 2011. 

Home games and practices were traditionally played in the Atlanta area due to the lack of a suitable facility in Athens. In 2013, Hoos and members of the UGA Hockey Foundation (the non-profit organization founded in 2012 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.

Highlights from 2012 Savannah Tire Hockey Classic vs Florida.

In 2011, SECHC Commissioner Sarge Day created the John Hoos Coach of the Year Award in recognition of Hoos’ accomplishments, including eleven winning seasons and seven appearances at national tournaments. He also set up several high-profile college hockey events in conjunction with the Atlanta Knights in The Omni, the Atlanta Thrashers in Philips Arena and with the Gwinnett Gladiators at the Gwinnett Center Arena. Hoos was also one of the organizers of the college hockey tournament in Savannah. Working with Kenny "Sarge" Day, Steve Durrigan and Brandon Hudson, Hoos also played a significant role in the establishment of the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference.

The 2011-12 season ended with an overall record of 8-17-2 and 5-5-0 in SECHC play. Peter Kacer, Vince DiCarlo, Ryan Terrana, and Cam Navis were all selected to the SECHC All-Star Team. 

UGA Ice Dawgs 2017-18 Hype Video

At the end of October, 2012, the ACHA announced that Peter Kacer, goalkeeper Vince DiCarlo and Coach John Hoos had been selected for the D3 Select Team that would be traveling to Europe over the Christmas/New Year break.

The SEC All-Stars, L-R: Vince DiCarlo, Cam Davis, Kyle Blankenship, and Peter Kacer getting ready to meet fans at the UGA Bookstore.

In early November 2014, the ACHA National Select Team announced that Alex Carey was selected for the 2014-15 team that will travel to Europe in late December. Carey played for the Amarillo Bulls in the NAHL Junior A hockey league prior to coming to Georgia and was recently been named a captain on the Ice Dawgs. The team was scheduled to practice in Athens from December 26-28 and play an exhibition game before leaving for Munich, Germany. Coach John Hoos was also selected as a member of the coaching staff. In December, however, Hoos and the UGA Hockey Club parted ways, with Hoos accepting a position with the University of Central Florida as an assistant coach. 

In March 2014, UGA Hockey helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity. 

In February at the SECHC Tournament, the Ice Dawgs knocked off Auburn, 12-2, South Carolina, 5-4, before meeting Ole Miss in the championship game. Battling back from an early 2-0 deficit and led by Perry Holcombe’s four goals and one assist, UGA posted nine unanswered goals for a 9-2 victory, 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.

UGA Hockey Team visiting Children's Hospital during the Savannah Hockey Classic in 2017

In July, the American Collegiate Hockey Association announced the 2018 Men’s Division III Select Team roster. Carter Penzien and Kyle Harris were chosen for the team and will compete in Krasnoyarsk, Russia from September 28 to October 8 in the Student Hockey Challenge.

In July, the  team announced that Brian Daley was joining the coaching staff as an assistant coach for the 2019-2020 season. A lifelong student of the game, Daley is a USA Hockey L4 certified coach with success in U14, U16 and high school hockey programs in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia .“We are very excited to bring Brian aboard as an assistant coach,” general manager John Camp said. “He possesses a good hockey mind combined with good experience as a coach with high-level youth programs in the area.”

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.

The 2021-22 season saw another coaching change: Brian Daley was out and John Camp was in as Head Coach. Camp was assisted by Todd Miller and CJ Willox. Steve Beneke began his 24th season as assistant coach and equipment manager. 

Georgia’s defeated Auburn 5-3 in the first round of the CHS playoffs in Huntsville. In the second round, UGA erased a second period deficit to defeat Florida 4-3. In the championship game, the Dawgs trailed Florida Atlantic by two scores with five minutes remaining in the second period. Led by Jackson Katz’s hat trick, UGA posted four unanswered goals to claim the CHS Championship.

The final seconds of the Ice Dawgs victory over Florida Atlantic to capture the 2022 CHS Championship

UGA Hockey fans were offered a unique chance to be a part of the team in 2018. The new “Adopt-A-Player” program created by the UGA Hockey Foundation allows fans to meet your favorite Ice Dawg, treat them to a meal at a local restaurant, providing a small gift on their birthday, furnishing a bag with their favorite snacks for long road trips, while raising money for the Foundation through the donations from participants. 

In February, the SECHC announced a major name change and rebranding. The conference would now be known as College Hockey South (CHS) to be more inclusive to the large number of participating hockey programs that were not SEC schools. UGA ended the season 10-1-0-0 in CHS play and 20-4-1-0 overall. By finishing #1 in the CHS, the Ice Dawgs were guaranteed a spot in the CHF National Tournament in Pennsylvania.