Welp, Day 1 of the NHL Lockout is coming to a close and, as you might have expected, the NHL and the NHLPA are nowhere near coming to an agreement. Fans across North America are teary-eyed and sort of lost, not exactly knowing what to do without a hockey season to look forward to. Where as prominent hockey communities like New York and all of Canada have other outlets to cling to other than the NHL, those of us in non-traditional markets are left twiddling our thumbs, wishing on stars every night for the big wigs to come to an agreement… or are we?
Many would believe the South is a non-traditional hockey market and, in all fairness, it truly is. Baseball and college football rule this area, with hockey clinging like icicles in certain parts of the region. With Atlanta losing yet another NHL expansion team to Canada, it’s hard to believe hockey could survive somewhere like Georgia, Alabama, or even Mississippi, yet it thrives if you know just where to look.
For those who believe the South cannot withhold and establish a thriving hockey franchise, I give you the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).
If you’re a devoted hockey follower, you have probably heard of the SPHL, but for all the newcomers that have never dealt with a NHL Lockout before, there is still hockey to be found! Teams in the SPHL include:
- The Huntsville Havoc – Huntsville, Alabama
– The Knoxville Ice Bears – Knoxville, Tennessee
– The Augusta RiverHawks – Augusta, Georgia
– The Columbus Cottonmouths – Columbus, Georgia
– The Mississippi RiverKings – Southaven, Mississippi (Memphis)
– The Fayetteville FireAntz – Fayetteville, North Carolina
– The Mississippi Surge – Biloxi, Mississippi
– The Louisiana Ice Gators – LaFayette, LA
– The Pensacola Ice Flyers – Pensacola, Florida
Although there have been many franchises that have folded over the years, from the teams listed, hockey has managed to thrive in the South, even before the Nashville Predators arrived in the Music City. For Predators fans, the Knoxville Ice Bears, the Mississippi RiverKings, and the Huntsville Havoc would be the nearest teams to visit, with the Havoc being the closest (2 hours). Although it isn’t exactly the boys we are used to cheering for, you could end up finding your own Pekka Rinne or Shea Weber in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Let’s also not forget our college teams also have a love for hockey. Wether it’s an actual team or just a club, you’d be surprised who has a hockey setup on campus. Here’s a list of a few colleges with hockey outlets:
- Vanderbilt Commodores – Nashville, TN
– The Tennessee Ice VOLS – Knoxville, TN
– The Ole Miss Ice Rebels – Oxford, MS
– Georgia Tech - Atlanta, GA
– Memphis Tigers Hockey – Memphis, TN
– The Alabama Frozen Tide – Tuscaloosa, AL
– Florida Gators Hockey – Gainesville, FL
– The UGA Ice Dogs – Athens, GA
Who knew the SEC was prominent in sports other than football, baseball, and basketball? Now, that’s just a handful of colleges with hockey clubs and/or teams; we can’t list them all. Your best bet to see if your college (or one near by) has a hockey club or team is to check out your college’s website.
If the SPHL and the college teams just don’t do it for you, there are always the AHL and ECHL teams across the country, all affiliates with the NHL teams. As you know, the Milwaukee Admirals are the farm team to the Predators, but Wisconsin’s a good distance away from Nashville, Tennessee. The closest AHL team to Music City would be the Charlotte Checkers out of Charlotte, North Carolina. If you have a soft side for the Carolina Hurricanes, this would be the AHL team for you. For all of the AHL teams across the country and their NHL affiliates, just visit the AHL site here.
As for ECHL, the closest to the Nashville area are the Greenville Road Warriors of Greenville, South Carolina and the Gwinnett Gladiators of Duluth, Georgia. The Road Warriors are the ECHL affiliate of the New York Rangers and the Gladiators are the Phoenix Coyotes affiliate.
As you can tell, there’s still hockey to be found, even if the NHL and NHLPA can’t come to a logical agreement. And, may we add, the hockey to be found is not limited to this list alone. So plan a day trip, road trip, or whatever to support these minor league and college teams. Heck, even if the NHL Lockout comes to an end, it’s still a great idea to support these smaller, lesser known teams. Truthfully, they are the teams that keep hockey alive in the South.
What hockey team will you be supporting during the lockout?