University of Georgia hockey coach John Hoos has two jobs: “one that pays the bills and one that is my passion.”
Hoos will bring both his passion and Bulldogs to the Columbus Civic Center for the College Hockey Clash the weekend of Nov. 20-21.
The Bulldogs will join in-state rival Georgia Tech, Alabama and Clemson in a two-day tournament for non-varsity intercollegiate hockey teams.
Hoos, Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference commissioner Sarge Day and city officials announced the tournament at a press conference at the Civic Center on Friday afternoon.
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The tournament was Hoos’ brain child, conceived after a visit to the Savannah Hockey Classic. In Savannah, Hoos witnessed 10,000 hockey fans cheering on their favorite schools. Toss in a visit to a Columbus Cottonmouths game at the Civic Center and the idea was born.
The development of hockey in Columbus began with the birth of the Cottonmouths in the fall of 1996. Youth and adult hockey leagues also compete for the Civic Center’s limited ice time. That will change this winter.
A second sheet of ice is under construction adjacent to the Civic Center. It will accommodate the youth and adult leagues as well as skating lessons, birthday parties and public skating.
Another purpose was announced Friday. The newly created Auburn University club hockey program will use the Civic Center as its home ice this season and switch to the new rink upon its completion in early 2011.
The Tigers will hold tryouts in Pelham, Ala., on the next two Saturdays. They open on the road with a two-game series against Vanderbilt on Sept. 17-18. Their home opener will be at the Civic Center on Oct. 15. Time of the contest will be announced later.
Hoos enters his 12th season as the Dogs’ head coach.
“We use non-scholarship athletes and are predominantly self-funded,” Hoos said. “We get limited funds from the student activity fees and no funding from the athletic department. We get support from the department in other ways, such as the use of our logos.”
Hoos and the Dogs have their home ice in Duluth, Ga., at the Atlanta Ice Forum. The players make the 50-minute drive from Athens twice a week for practice and play a 24-game schedule.
Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard has been an advocate of expanding hockey’s role in the community since he arrived in town to serve as the team’s first captain in 1996. Now its coach and general manager, Bechard is still trying to get the word out.
“We want to bring lots of other folks in the south the opportunity to experience our great sport,” Bechard said. “We want to put people in the new facility, especially the kids. We want to get the little guys involved.”
The Cottonmouths will participate in a special hockey triple header on the first day of the Clash. Alabama squares off against Clemson at 2 p.m. on Nov. 20. The Snakes tangle with Pensacola at 5 p.m., followed by traditional rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech at 8 p.m. The following day features a Clemson-Georgia Tech matchup at 3 p.m. followed by Georgia-Alabama at 6 p.m.
Hockey fans will be treated to all three games for the price of one ticket. Ticket prices ranges from $12 to $28.
The Civic Center will also host the SECHC playoffs in February. The top four teams from the league’s Eastern and Western divisions will compete for the title Feb. 25-27. Columbus won the right to host the tournament, beating out Pelham, Ala., which served as host for the past two seasons, Nashville, Tenn., Columbia, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.
Kathy Gierer is an independent correspondent. You can write to her at email@example.com