Pro Hockey in Georgia
The State of Georgia has now had two cracks at supporting a National Hockey League team, with no real success. The Atlanta Flames entered the NHL, along with the New York Islanders, for the 1972-73 season and lasted just eight years before moving to Calgary, Alberta. The Atlanta Thrashers joined the league for the 1999-00 season and became the Winnipeg Jets for the 2011-12 NHL season.
However, Georgia is not void of professional hockey. They’re not at the NHL, or even AHL, level but the State is host to three pro hockey teams. One plays out of the ECHL while the other two are in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL).
The Gwinnett Gladiators have been in the ECHL since the 2003-04 season. Previous to that, the franchise was located in Mobile, Alabama and was known as the Mystics. The Gladiators are affiliated with the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL and the Portland Pirates of the AHL. Gwinnett has yet to win a championship in the ECHL but went to the Kelly Cup finals in 2005-06.
The Gladiators play out of the Arena at Gwinnett Center, located in Duluth, Georgia at the northeast corner of the Metro Atlanta area. The arena has a capacity of 11,355. The Gladiators averaged 5,161 per game in 2011-12.
The Columbus Cottonmouths are the reigning champions in the SPHL, ousting the Pensacola Ice Flyers, one of five Florida pro hockey teams, in the 2011-12 President’s Cup final. Columbus has been in the SPHL since 2004-05 and won the President’s Cup in their first year in the league. The franchise has existed in some form since 1996-97, bouncing from the CHL to the ECHL to the SPHL.
Columbus is located in western Georgia, on the border with Alabama. The Cottonmouths play out of the Columbus Civic Center. The Civic Center has a capacity of 6,557 for hockey. In 2011-12, the team averaged 2,731 fans per game, just below the SPHL average.
The Augusta RiverHawks are in their third season in the SPHL. In 2010-11, their first year of existence, the RiverHawks met the Mississippi Surge in the President’s Cup final but were swept in three games. This past season, 2011-12, Augusta finished first during the SPHL regular season but was upset in the quarter-finals.
Augusta is located on the opposite side of the state as Columbus, on the border with South Carolina. The team plays out of the James Brown Arena which has a capacity of 6,557. Despite the team’s success over their first two seasons in the SPHL, the RiverHawks have drawn the smallest crowds in the league each season. In their first year, they averaged 1,637 per game and in 2011-12 the number increased slightly to 1,902.