The Nashville Predators might be in the midst of a nine-day road trip, but there is still hockey to be played in Music City.
The Southeastern College Hockey Conference will host its annual tournament on Feb. 7-9 at Ford Ice Center Bellevue. Eight SECHC universities - Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida Atlantic, Mississippi, South Carolina and Auburn - will take part in the single-elimination tournament with opening-round play beginning on Friday.
"What makes it unique is that you have schools that are mostly known for football and basketball in the Southeast," SECHC Commissioner Justin Bradford said. "They have their club hockey teams, and yes, it's club hockey so it's not varsity, but these kids are playing for the pride of their school, to wear that crest on the front of their jersey and they're going out there hitting hard, skating hard."
Bradford is excited about hockey's presence in the Southeast, citing the Predators' success as a catalyst for growth. After founding the conference in 2008, he'll now oversee the annual tournament for the 12th consecutive year, and Ford Ice Center Bellevue will once again play host.
"Just their community efforts, their grassroots effort since Day One has helped to continue to grow the sport," Bradford said of the Predators. "What my mantra is with the SECHC is that I want people to discover it, to fall in love with it and to realize what we all love about it as well. And so having the Nashville Predators be a part of this and to be a partner with Ford Ice Center and SECHC means everything to me, because we're all in this together to try to grow the sport of hockey."
Bradford hopes the tournament will encourage fans of college athletics to come support their teams, regardless of their familiarity with hockey or the SECHC.
"One thing I'm always battling is, 'I didn't even know we had a hockey team,' which I get," Bradford said. "It's all about introducing it to people and making sure that yes, you're an alum, you're a supporter of this university, go support that hockey team. You have an opportunity to go watch hockey at a collegiate level, to wear the sweater that you always wanted to wear."
The tournament will feature two new teams that joined the conference in 2019. Florida Atlantic and Georgia Tech join the mix for the first time in each program's history, but the universities have supported their hockey teams for quite some time. Georgia Tech's hockey team, which was founded in 1973, is the longest-running collegiate club hockey team in the Southeast United States.
Newcomers to the conference will clash with some of the SECHC's elite, including the defending champion Georgia Bulldogs and the top-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks. Georgia and Arkansas have accounted for the SECHC Tournament Championship in each of the past seven years.
"Every program is a little different, and it depends on the university support, community support, booster support, all these different types of things," Bradford said. "They sell out games in Georgia. They're selling season tickets for club hockey in Georgia, which is fantastic to me to just know that we have a club hockey team that can sell season tickets.
"Arkansas is the same way - they won multiple championships, they made regionals multiple times. They recruit a lot out of the Dallas area, so they're getting a lot of high-quality players as well."
The tournament begins with four games on Friday, Feb. 7. No. 1 seed Arkansas will take on No. 8 Tennessee at 12 p.m. (CT), followed by No. 2 South Carolina versus No. 7 Auburn at 3 p.m., No. 4 Georgia versus No. 5 Georgia Tech at 6 p.m. and No. 3 FAU versus No. 6 Mississippi at 9 p.m.
On Saturday, the winners of each round will face off in the semifinals at 6:30 and 9:15 p.m., while the losers from the first round will play in consolation games at 10:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. On Sunday, the third-place game will start at 10:30 a.m. with the championship game starting at 2 p.m CT.
The games will be streamed live on Penalty Box Radio and broadcast via Penalty Box Radio's Facebook page, but the best view, according to Bradford, is right up against the glass in Bellevue.
"You get to be really up close, especially with Ford Ice Center and the way it's all laid out," Bradford said. "You can be on the glass watching these games and you can see a hard hit on the glass and you're right there getting to experience it. Especially, bring your kids. This is a great opportunity to not spend a lot of money and to bring your kids out to really experience college hockey up close."
Concession stands and free parking will be provided at Ford Ice Center.
Click here for ticketing information or head to SECHC.net for more details on the upcoming tournament.