In a region where football has replaced cotton as king, a Yankee sport continues to grow. For the past three years the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference (SECHC) has been the organizing body for non-varsity hockey clubs at schools within the NCAA’s traditional SEC.
This year, the SECHC kicks off its fourth season as part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) Division III. As students head back to campus, tryouts are being held across the southeast from Arkansas to South Carolina. The first games start in September and conference play kicks off September 16 with the Ole Miss Ice Rebels visiting the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Now that the SECHC has increased to eleven teams, the conference will have East and West divisions similar to the NCAA’s SEC structure. The only SEC team not represented in the SECHC is Kentucky (the Wildcats hockey team plays in the ACHA’s Division II). Each SECHC team plays the other at least twice a season and meet up at the different tournaments held throughout the South.
SECHC Commissioner Sarge Day, who previously coached Georgia Tech’s team in Atlanta, is very supportive of the sport and his league’s hockey players. “My main focus with the SECHC is to create the very best positive college hockey experience for our student athletes and to grow the sport in the south. Tough duty, but I’ve been at it since 1999 and have seen many new teams form.”
Many of the traditional SEC rivalries have transferred to the ice as well. Now that Auburn has entered the SECHC, they battle Alabama for the Iron Cup. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have taken their competition from the gridiron to the rink. Tennessee and Vanderbilt play each other in the I-40 Face Off.
The annual Savannah Hockey Classic features cross-conference rivalries between Georgia and Georgia Tech as well as Florida and Florida State. The Classic tournament has been held since 1998 and regularly draws over 10,000 fans to the coastal city. According to Day, “This tournament is promoted in the Savannah newspapers and on TV and radio and is the #1 college hockey tournament in the southeast.”
Over the next few weeks, I will be introducing readers to the eleven SECHC teams, a few of which have a much longer history than one might suspect. As the resident “SECHC Correspondent,” I hope to begin providing recaps of weekly games and stories on the various tournaments and showcases throughout the season.
Despite the wide variety of naysayers, hockey is alive and well in the South – from the Bolts, the Preds, and the Canes to the Tide, the Tigers, and the Vols, it looks like hockey is here to stay.