North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

Local Sports

January 23, 2014

Robert Carter: Alabama and Auburn fans fall in love with hockey

COMMENTARY — When a friend asked how many fans would come out to see ice hockey teams from Alabama and Auburn play each other, as they have done for four years now, I said, “They’ll have at least 3,000 on Saturday night, and probably sell out.”

My friend was a bit dubious.

“Dude, it’s Alabama and Auburn! If they played competitive tiddly-winks against each other, they would probably draw 2,000 people.”

Sure enough, the crowd that showed up at the Pelham Ice Center on Saturday was a sellout. There were 3,842 fans in attendance, most wearing Bama crimson but about 1,000 in Tiger orange and blue. Crowds for the other games in the three-game series were nearly as big.

It wasn’t always that way for the Frozen Tide.

In 2006, the team was just starting, and I was working for a brand-new newspaper in Hoover. I heard about the Tide by word of mouth, and being a hockey fan, I went to go do a story. Supporters were astounded to see a real live reporter show up — apparently I was their first.

The play is a whole lot better now. Back then, the Frozen Tide could barely beat a teenage team from Canada. Now they are ranked fifth among club teams in the south, and easily handled Auburn with scores of 9-1, 3-0 and 13-1.

They even have a coach with a big name: Mike Quenneville, a cousin of coach Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of the Stanley Cup in two of the last three NHL seasons.

Mike Quenneville also has championship experience of his own, having been an assistant coach for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, the state’s only varsity college hockey program and winners of two NCAA Division II titles. Before that, he also played for the team in the late ‘80s.

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