Oct 4, 2013 – Athens, GA
A new home for UGA Hockey games is officially coming to the Classic Center in downtown Athens. The ACC Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 7-3 in favor of backing the funding that will add a portable and removable 200’ X 85’ ice rink complete with dasher boards and protective glass to the convention center’s recent exhibition hall expansion – this final vote coincidentally took place on National Hockey Day, the opening day of he NHL season. The proposal which includes retractable seating for up to 2,500 spectators will make the Classic Center home for UGA Hockey home games beginning as soon as this winter or early spring. “The next step is to complete the financing and move forward procuring the seating and ice rink equipment,” Classic Center executive director Paul Cramer explained. That process could take up to a month, and then the order time for the equipment will factor into when hockey games could be scheduled in Athens.
The “Ice Dogs” currently travel to the Duluth, GA IceForum for practices and games, so according to 15-year head coach John Hoos a new home across the street from campus will be a welcome transition. “This is truly the fulfillment of a vision that has been in the making for many years. Having UGA Hockey games in downtown Athens at a beautiful venue like the Classic Center will provide unprecedented access for the Athens extended community and UGA students to the thrill of Georgia Hockey,” Hoos commented. “Being able to have true home games right here in Athens is incredibly exciting to open up the doors for a whole new segment of fans right here at our home base, and will eliminate the 316 commute for our players and supporters.” Mr. Cramer added that the ice rink in the exhibition hall will also be used for other events, and that the retractable seating will boost convention center events which require larger capacity seating. All that, and not a single dollar of local tax money will be spent on the ice rink or other equipment, which includes expanding the Classic Center parking capacity.
Ice Dogs hockey games in or near Athens has had other suitors in recent years, but when the opportunity was presented for the Classic Center to host a rink it was seen as a good fit. UGA Hockey Foundation President David Brooks agrees – “We have a great support base that believes UGA hockey in Athens will be tremendously popular and successful. Response to our interest surveys far exceeded expectations, and we will plan for the same when the games start here.” The UGA Hockey Foundation, conceptualized by Coach Hoos and Mr. Brooks, and fostered with help from former player and long time supporter Joseph Fisher, Ice Dogs team founder Larry Hall, and former ice rink owner and assistant coach Gus Saponari, is a support body that operates a booster club and other support for the team. “We are unbelievably blessed to have someone like David Brooks and our other board members on our team,” said Hoos. “Over the past two plus years Mr. Brooks has passionately taken on bigger roles to help enhance the outlook and success of the team, and he has been a fantastic partner and friend to work with building the Foundation and support for the team. And to have a great longtime friend and big supporter Larry Hall on our board is a personal thrill for me. Likewise, few others have been a part of the success of this program as long as Joey Fisher, and the addition of Gus Saponari three years ago has added fresh and innovative ideas from his experience as a rink owner.” Team founder Larry Hall commented on his excitement after the approval vote – “I just couldn’t be more excited and proud of where this program has come! And now 27 years later to be a part of bringing hockey to Athens is a thrill I just could not have imagined.”
Mr. Brooks owns Ameritrans, Inc., an Athens based long distance non-emergency medical transportation company, discovered the Georgia Hockey team at a team promotional table outside the football stadium at a home game. “I took my son Alec to a hockey game after that, and like many fans we became hooked. I saw how hard John [Hoos] and the players worked to support the team and the vision he had, and I really wanted to help.” Alec has become an unofficial team mascot and Jr. Ice Dog and now plays hockey with the passion that he sees from the players he cheers on at Georgia games.
“I’m not sure you could find a more diverse and passionate board than what we have,” added Hoos. “We could not be where we are today without them, as well as the supporting group of dedicated and passionate people on our advisory committee who continue to carry the work of so many key people who have helped move the program forward each year.” Coach Hoos pointed out an important piece of the new relationship with the Classic Center – “A special thank you is deserved to Lori Brooks who facilitated the first meeting I had with Paul Cramer. There are alot of things that have really fit together, but Jared Reeves hearing about holiday skating, then the timing of Lori setting up that initial meeting is really what started the relationship with the Classic Center.”
The rink will not be a year-round fixture in the Classic Center. The ice system selected is an innovative design that allows a complete ice rink to be set up in 36 hours and removed in roughly half that time. That will allow hockey games, holiday skating, and other events to take place with quick transition times in order to work with the Classic Center’s bevy of regularly scheduled conventions and trade shows . “The forward thinking of director Paul Cramer and the Classic Center Authority Board, as well as the support of Mayor Denson and the majority of the Commission members with this proposal is providing a new and exciting sporting event to Athens with UGA Hockey games, and positive economic impacts from the other ice rink events and the larger shows that the seating will accommodate,” Coach Hoos thoughtfully explained. “It will also be making a 20 plus year-old dream come true. We try to pass on a message to our players who come thru our team: Have a vision, be passionate about it, believe in it, present your product the way you want to be seen, and seek out and capitalize on opportunities to fulfill your dream. Persistence and consistency do pay off. ”
Dream big Coach. Build it, and Athens will come.