The South is known for many attributes: an obsessive love of football, fried chicken, Waffle House.
It is not known for ice hockey. Maybe because it’s a little too cold for a Southerner’s comfort.
I remember the days when Atlanta had a National Hockey League team. (No, really.) Beginning in 1999, Atlanta had the Thrashers. Attendance numbers weren’t great. In 2011, the team moved to Winnipeg, which seemed much more logical. Atlanta responded with a collective, “Meh.”
Now the biggest hockey team in Atlanta is the Gwinnett Gladiators, a minor league team.
Until Sunday when I saw the Gladiators play, I had never seen an ice hockey game. Remember: I live in the South. Football, baseball, and basketball are the sports of choice.
When I went to the game, it felt like everyone else knew that too. The stands were half empty. And though the game was fun and fast-moving, I spent much of it wondering what it must be like to play for a minor league hockey team in the South, a region where few care about sports on ice.
It’s not you, ice hockey. It’s us.
I don’t know why ice hockey doesn’t enjoy as popular a status as other sports. It’s more fun to watch than football, which takes hours for just a small amount of playtime, but it provides the same amount of violence. It’s as quick-paced as basketball. And it’s faster and includes more exercise than baseball.
The only explanation I can muster is hockey just isn’t Southern tradition. Football, basketball, and baseball are all sports that can be played outdoors at just about any time of the year, but ice hockey is more difficult to play. First, you need to know how to skate well. Then you have to go to a ice skating rink, a somewhat rare creature, to play. And let’s face it: During the lazy days of summer, most people would rather hit a baseball in the sun than a puck in an indoor rink.
As far as team sports are concerned, ice hockey just has higher barriers to entry.
Meanwhile at the Gladiators’ hockey game, a man in the stands was teaching his two young kids how to heckle, beaming whenever they insulted the opposing team.
“My grandma can skate better than you!”
Some traditions transcend time, place, and sport.