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College hockey is growing in the South

Ellie Godwin // Provided

Patrick O’Brien (20) rifles a shot toward Josh Bailey (30) during warmups before Clemson’s game against Middle Tennessee on Jan. 13, 2023.

Let’s face it: college hockey is growing in the South, and Clemson is prepared to answer the surge in popularity. 
The Clemson club ice hockey team competed in the College Hockey South Division II conference alongside 22 other southern schools last season.
Some of the more prominent names in this southern hockey group include South Carolina, Georgia and Tampa. In fact, Clemson and the aforementioned programs were just four of 13 total CHS teams to advance to the AAU National Championship in March. The CHS conference supplied almost 41% of the total teams that participated in the tournament. 
“As the sport grows and more and more people continue to realize the benefits of playing down here, the league keeps getting better,” Clemson’s assistant captain Thomas Samuelsen told The Tiger. 
While in West Chester, Pennsylvania, for Nationals, No. 31 Clemson defeated No. 15 Penn State Harrisburg and No. 23 Fredonia State for a 2-1-0 record. No. 10 South Carolina left with a 2-0-1 record, but neither team advanced from the pool play round. No. 16 Georgia went 3-0-0 in pool play — defeating the No. 1 St. Bonaventure Bonnies — and advanced to the quarterfinals, where they lost to No. 3 Tampa. The Spartans went on to the semi-final round but were shut down by the soon-to-be National Champions, Binghamton. 
In the regular season, Tampa held an impressive 26-0-0 record and won the College Hockey South Championship against Alabama in February. Despite being sent home by Binghamton before the finals, the Spartans’ very own Jack Manware was the highest-scoring player in the AAU Tournament with 11 points in just five games.
However, talent is only one of the factors contributing to the southern hockey expansion. 
In 2019, the University of Georgia announced its plans to open a 130-million-dollar arena that will be home to the Bulldogs hockey team and a future ECHL minor league franchise.
According to the Red and Black, the arena will hold an 8,500 seating capacity and will be within walking distance of the University of Georgia’s campus in Athens. Head coach and general manager John Camp announced the arena is projected to be finished by February 2024, according to his Twitter.
The Bulldogs currently play at the Akins Ford Arena at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia, which has a capacity of 2,000. If a significant capacity increase and a new stadium aren’t proof enough that southern college hockey fanbases are expanding, here’s some more: 
In February, the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State ACHA club hockey teams held a stadium series-esque outdoor matchup at Carter-Finley Stadium, an event which they coined the “Frozen Finley.”
There were more than 25,000 attendees.
As for the Clemson hockey team, the Tigers just hope Clemson fans are ready to keep up.

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Kelly Kaelblein, Senior Reporter
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