TUPELO – Alex Palmer couldn’t believe his eyes.
When he skated to center ice prior to his team’s first early-season game against Ole Miss in Tupelo, the president of Mississippi State’s fledgling club hockey program was amazed at what he saw.
“I looked up and there was just a huge crowd there to support us,” said Palmer, a native of Buffalo who helped form the Ice Dawgs two years ago. “The crowd makes a big difference, and for Tupelo to support us with 2,500 to 3,000 people in the stands. … It was overwhelming.”
Tonight, the boys are back in town.
Mississippi State’s Ice Dawgs return to the BancorpSouth Center tonight and Saturday for a pair of games against SEC rival LSU, another program in the early stages of its development. The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m., and Saturday at 7:30.
The Ice Dawgs, now 3-4 on the year, could top the .500 mark with a pair of wins over 1-7 LSU. Not bad for a team that was merely an idea two years ago.
Along with Palmer, MSU students Mike Miller and Patrick Swartz decided to hold a meeting to gauge the interest of developing a program in Starkville. When over 20 students and faculty showed up, the idea began to take shape.
“We really didn’t know where it was going when we started,” Palmer said, “but it has really grown in the past two years.”
Part of the reason for that growth is a wealth of willing players on the Starkville campus, a mixture of northern transplants who yearned to keep playing the game and Mississippi natives itching to give it a shot on the college level. The result is a rapidly-improving group that plays for the love of the game.
“These kids all love the sport, and that’s why they’re out here,” said MSU head coach Michael Mayhew, a Windsor, Ontario, native who came to the area in the late 90’s to play for the T-Rex and ended up settling down in Lee County. “Nothing has been given to these kids. They have taken this idea and built it from the ground up. All the money to fund this thing comes out of their pocket, and it takes a great deal of work. This team has so much heart that they haven’t let anything stop them yet.”
This weekend’s action against LSU will be Mississippi State’s final home games of the season in Tupelo, which has doubled as the home of the Ice Dawgs since the beginning.
“I’ve played hockey since I was 13 at all levels,” said MSU goaltender Christopher Pinelli, a native of Oakville, Ontario, who came to Starkville for veterinary school. “And in all the years I’ve played, I’ve never seen crowds like what we had in Tupelo against Ole Miss. The turnout and support they have given us has simply been amazing.”
Contact Brandon Walker at 678-1601 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brandon Walker/NEMS Daily Journal