The Bridgestone Arena has played host to thousands of events from sports to concerts to national television broadcasts. But tonight, the first college hockey game in the venue’s history will take place when the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers and the Merrimack College Warriors hit the ice at 7 p.m.
A rematch will take place tomorrow at 1 p.m. for those who can’t make it tonight or just can’t get enough hockey. The Predators will take on the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night so in a day/night hockey doubleheader.
The University of Alabama-Huntsville is Nashville’s “home” team and unique in several ways. They recently lost their conference affiliation with College Hockey America when it disbanded so they are playing as an independent in search of a new conference. They are also the only Division I team south of the Ohio River so scheduling is a nightmare for UAH or the teams they convince to head south.
UAH has had a tough season so far going 3-19-2 in what is considered to be a rebuilding year after playing in the NCAA tournament last season. The team is coached by former NHLer Chris Luongo.
A couple of local kids who’s name you will recognize play for the Chargers. Sebastian and Brice Geoffrion, the younger brothers of Predator prospect Blake Geoffrion, are regulars on the Huntsville squad. Sebastian is the team leader in penalty minutes with 99 that includes five majors.
Merrimack moved into the 15th spot nationally this week and enters the weekend with a 10-4-4 record. Their last game was a 7-1 victory over traditional college hockey power Maine on January 8. A game against Boston University that was set for Wednesday was postponed due to snow.
Having a college game in Nashville is a further extension of the Predators’ efforts to expand hockey’s reach in Tennessee to as many folks as possible. Primarily, efforts have been with youth hockey, high school, and the GOAL (Get Out and Learn) program so the college game is the next step in moving further up the ladder. The Predators, along with the Nashville Sports Council would love to land a future “Frozen Four” national championship weekend to the Bridgestone Arena and these games could be an early step in the process.
UAH will be the host team for the 2012 Frozen Four in the unlikely venue of Florida’s St. Pete Times Forum. The Predators COO Sean Henry was a key player in luring the games to Tampa when he was with the Lightning and would like to do the same in Nashville. Once the new Music City Center convention center and hotel project is completed in 2013, Nashville will be in a much more competitive position to attract large NCAA events and possibly even an NHL All-Star game at some point.
Tickets for this weekend’s games start at $10 and are only $5 with a college ID. There will be discounts on beer for a portion of the contests.
This is a rare opportunity to see a different brand of hockey and one that you will not want to miss.