I have a confession to make that might surprise you—but it probably won’t. I’m not a sports guy. It’s not that I don’t understand the complicated rules and various hand signals involved in, for example, football and basketball. It is just that I don’t really care. Those sports don’t get me excited and really just make me feel isolated and alone. The one sport I CAN get behind—and I so, so do—is hockey. This is a game for those who enjoy the spirit of a game well-played but also enjoy a 60-minute contest that is easily as violent as a football game, as fast-paced as a basketball game and as psychologically interesting as the best baseball game could hope to be. The question is: Would you go to games?
I am a season ticket holder for the Knoxville Ice Bears of the Southern Professional Hockey League. We drive to every home game—28 in total. I even record videos sometimes. Chattanooga, you don’t know what you’re missing. Here are five reasons why I think professional hockey would work in our city.
The SPHL is at least three steps away from the show—or the National Hockey League. It is still professional hockey. The teams have a salary cap, and the players are treated as professional hockey players. It’s the real deal. Knoxville leads the league of nine teams in attendance, with an average of about 3,000 fans per game. They claim 1,200 season ticket holders. The Ice Bears are heavily involved in a community that is shrouded in UT orange. Somehow, it still works. This current season marks the 10th year of Ice Bears hockey in Knoxville. It is a testament to the quality of ownership and the loyalty of fans that the Ice Bears have succeeded, but it’s also a nod to the quality of the hockey being played.
Chattanooga has always been a convenient place to live if you want access to other major Southern cities. Regionally, three other cities currently host SPHL hockey teams: Huntsville’s Havoc, the Columbus Cottonmouths and the Ice Bears in Knoxville. The natural rivalries are already here. To be clear, rivalries are more important in hockey than in most sports because of the psychology and physical nature of the game, not to mention the frequency at which hockey teams at this level play one another. Knoxville and Huntsville play each other eight times during the 52-game schedule. It’s the same with Columbus. Throw a Chattanooga team into the mix, and we’ve already got three blood rivals, each only two hours away.
Baseball is not hockey, obviously
Chattanooga has the Lookouts and that’s fine, but I can only stomach a few games a season before I’ve had enough baseball. I can drink beer and eat hot dogs at home. Hockey is an intense spectator sport that requires being more than casually interested to enjoy. I think that’s part of the appeal. Baseball is a game to enjoy with a group of friends because there’s nothing better to do. It’s also important to note that a hockey season and a baseball season do not overlap. An SPHL team in Chattanooga would give Lookouts fans something to cheer for during the offseason and vice versa. I don’t really like going to Lookouts game, but I miss them when they aren’t there. That says something, I think.
I encourage anyone who hasn’t been to an Ice Bears or Havoc game to take the trip. At its core, hockey is just a weird sport: the ice, sweaters and legal fighting, for God’s sake. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense until you attend a game in person. Once there, you’re aware of everything that isn’t shown on TV. I enjoy what they call “chirping” in hockey—those back-and-forth conversations between the players that are often hilarious and definitely too vulgar for television. The speed and skill of the players is something appreciated once witnessed. I promise, once you attend a game you’ll be hooked.
This city has the uncanny ability to finance anything as long as the people and a few wealthy patrons are behind the cause. The money is there; it’s just a matter of convincing a certain few that hockey can work in Chattanooga. That’s why I encourage everyone to attend an Ice Bears game next season. Once you’re in the James White Coliseum (which was constructed in 1961), it’s hard to believe that this building hosts anything. But as fans pour in and excitement builds, you soon realize that this is something special. The only issue keeping the reality of hockey away from Chattanooga would be a suitable building or arena to host the games. This one stumps me. I don’t think that McKenzie Arena has the right dimensions for hockey, but I don’t have any other options. That’s where the money comes in. Chattanooga needs a civic center. Still, I don’t believe Knoxville has done anything Chattanooga can’t do. Let’s make this happen. My email address is at the bottom of this page. Go Lookouts!