Frozen Tide defeat Tennessee in SEC hockey tournament

It didn’t quite match the third Saturday in October, but the tension between the players and the passion among the fan base was clearly evident Feb. 26.

It may not have been played out on the gridiron at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the club hockey match between the University of Alabama Frozen Tide and the University of Tennessee Ice Vols at the Pelham Civic Complex provided another reminder that the rivalry between the two Southeastern Conference schools is heated — in any sport.

The Tide defeated the Vols 6-3 in a physical opening-round game of the second-annual Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament at the Complex in front of several hundred spectators, including Alabama football radio play-by-play announcer Eli Gold.

It left a smile on the face of the PCC’s director of hockey, Jeff Cheeseman, who also doubles as the head coach of the Frozen Tide, which is based out of the Complex.

“We just want to get the word of Alabama hockey out there,” Cheeseman said.

That mission has to be considered a success after Friday night’s contest. The University of Alabama pep band provided the same tunes that can be heard on Saturdays in the fall and fans’ cheers of “Roll Tide” filled the arena.

It also helped that the game featured plenty of hard-hitting action, including a few skirmishes, which are common in the sport of hockey. The biggest cheer came when a Tennessee player was ejected after a clash in the third period.

In between, the Tide managed to score six goals. Tennessee, which is the defending SECHC tournament champion, scored first before Alabama rallied with five-consecutive goals.

Sean Keeler and Brandon Butler scored goals for the Tide in the first period. Chris Heidkamp and Raul Paraliticci added goals in the second period. Clay Pratt scored and Keeler added a second-goal in the final period.

Alabama advanced to face Arkansas in the semifinals Feb. 27, where the Frozen Tide fell 5-1 to the Razorbacks. Alabama defeated Georgia 6-0 in the third-place game Feb. 28. Arkansas defeated Florida 6-2 to claim the tournament championship.

Arkansas and Florida will move on to the Division III South Regional of the American Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, but the season will end for Alabama (15-13) after the SECHC tournament.

Cheeseman said his players hope to make the most of their final opportunity.

“It hasn’t been the kind of season we wanted record-wise,” Cheeseman said. “But as far as establishment of the program, it’s been a very successful year.”

Hockey fans can catch more teams than just the Frozen Tide at the Pelham Civic Complex. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt are participating in the tournament. Kentucky plays in Division II of the ACHA and Auburn does not have a team.

The early quarterfinal between LSU and Vanderbilt provided a fantastic finish. The Commodores trailed 5-3 early in the third period before a hat trick by Vanderbilt’s Peter Dignard capped a comeback to give his team a 6-5 victory.

The action continues wraps up Feb. 28 with the championship game.

Complete results can be found online at Bamahockey.net.