TUPELO – Monday’s ice hockey showdown between Mississippi State and Ole Miss on the frozen rink of the BancorpSouth Arena was played in a football-like atmosphere.
And why not. The Bulldogs and Rebels clash Saturday on the 100-yard field in Starkville.
State fans in the crowd of 2,300 rang their cowbells louder for a Bulldog player’s hard check into the boards of an Ole Miss player than they did for their team’s first goal in a 6-2 victory against the Rebels.
“Most of the people are here because it’s State and Ole Miss,” BancorpSouth Arena director Todd Hunt said, as a pocket of Ole Miss fans chanted “Hoddy Toddy.”
“There’s a handful of T-Rex fans here who know what’s going on,” Hunt added, referring to Tupelo’s former professional hockey team.
But for the majority in attendance – including the unofficial Colonel Reb mascot – seeing the maroon and white playing the red and blue was all that mattered.
“I’m here to see the Rebels beat the Bulldogs in hockey,” said Tupelo resident Kevin Holman, who entered the arena wearing a Sergei Fedorov jersey. “I used to attend T-Rex games. I’m disappointed they’re not still here.”
Rocco Wicks, a former Army football player living in Tupelo, is a hockey fan who came to cheer for MSU.
“I’m a State fan and he’s a hockey fan,” said wife Lori Wicks. “That’s my State jacket he’s wearing. He’s become a State fan.”
Rocco Wicks missed last Friday night’s State-Ole Miss match that drew an estimated 2,500 fans. However, he did attend a Bulldogs Tupelo match last season and plans to attend State’s Jan. 8-9 BancorpSouth Arena matches against Arkansas.
“I liked it when they played last year; it was good hockey,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it and I plan to come back. I’m a sports fan.”
State coach Mike Mayhew, a former player for the T-Rex (1998-2000) who now works as deputy for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, liked the atmosphere he experienced in the arena for the two matches.
‘It gets wild’
“It gets wild in here, especially with the fans ringing their cowbells,” he said. “It’s not a club sport atmosphere. It’s wilder here than when I played in the pros.
“These fans really get into it.”
Mayhew said it’s hard to predict when the SEC would, if ever, add hockey to its scholarship lineup. In addition to State and Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have club programs in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).
“It’s a good caliber of hockey,” he said. “I could see this, in 10 to 15 years, step up to (NCAA) Division II.”
In Monday’s match, State (3-4) got two goals from R.C. Martin and one each from Josh Miller, Chance Morrealle, Joseph Lamerson and Will Walker while Ole Miss (2-6) got two third-period scores from Colin Knight and Raynor Clifton.
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal