Jack Brock

Gameday. Car packed. Cramped ride. Hit the locker rooms. Equipment on. Ready to go. It is time to hit the ice.

Sophomore Jack Kelly plays ice hockey for two teams in the Atlanta area: the Atlanta Whalers, a club team, and the Cambridge High School Bears.

Ice hockey is a team sport, played on ice rinks, where two sets of teams try to score points by shooting a rubber puck into the opposing team’s goal. Hockey teams usually consist of six players on the ice at all times: a center who controls the game for each team, right and left wingers who attack the others team’s goal, a right and left defender who defend their team’s goal, and a goalie.

Kelly is a right defensemen, but can play both defensive positions if needed.

He trains both with his coach at  Cambridge High School, Chris Copelli, who is also an assistant coach for the University of Georgia Ice Dogs, and his two coaches for the Whalers. One is a former employee of the Atlanta Thrashers and the other Kelly calls “dad.”

“I pretty much started [playing hockey] because my dad played hockey,” Kelly said.

Kelly has played hockey since he was four, when his father introduced him to the sport.

To practice with the team his dad co-coaches, Kelly has to travel to Center Ice Arena in Sandy Springs twice a week, which is thirty minutes away without traffic. With traffic, the trip can take hours going there and back.


Kelly has put a lot of time into playing hockey, and it has payed off. He was able to show off his skills in a SEC showcase from Feb. 5-7, one of 68 players invited to come.

The SEC event, Kelly believes, has been the highlight of his hockey career.

“This showcase [has been my best hockey experience] because I got to meet a bunch of SEC coaches and colleges,” Kelly said.

At the event, Kelly was able to play on a team led by the head coach at Vanderbilt University, Thomas Bernstein.

“My top choice for college right now is Ohio State, but in the SEC, I wouldn’t mind going to Vanderbilt,” Kelly said. “I mean, it’s a really good school.”

Training with the Whalers wouldn’t have been enough to get Kelly get to this SEC showcase. He also needed the training that comes with playing for his high school team.

“I think [high school play] is a little more fast paced and there are better players,” Kelly said.

Kelly has to play for Cambridge High because Decatur doesn’t field its own hockey team.

Georgia itself doesn’t have very many hockey players, either. According to USA Hockey, the governing body for amateur hockey in the United States, the state is ranked 35th for the number of youth players. That number has been slowly decreasing ever since the Atlanta Thrashers, a National Hockey League (NHL) team, left Atlanta for Winnipeg. This is in stark contrast to the overall national growth in the sport.

Scott Burnside, who covers the league for ESPN, knows how crucial NHL teams are to attracting new youth hockey players.

“An NHL team provides a lot of support to grassroots hockey in the places where the NHL works,” Burnside said. “[That’s] one of the unfortunate parts of the [Thrashers] leaving.”

Frank Carr, the manager at Center Ice Arena, has seen the decrease in hockey players first hand.

“[The number of players] has probably gone down a bit, just ‘cause you don’t get the exposure from the Thrashers anymore,” Carr said.

Although the number of people playing hockey in Georgia has gone down, there is still a great love for the sport around the state, according to Carr.

“[Hockey] is not like other sports, it’s more fast paced and its complex at the same time.” Kelly said. “I just grew up playing hockey and I love doing it.”

Burnside believes that many more people in Georgia would fall in love with hockey if they were exposed to it.

“I encourage every single person to go out and watch hockey, they should,” he said. “They would never go back.”


To find where you can go to play hockey in Georgia: