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Hockey in Mississippi Quietly Thriving
Exhibition games in Biloxi drew over 20,000 fans, and club college hockey is gaining in popularity
In a state whose sporting landscape is dominated by two SEC football factories and three college baseball powerhouses, many other sports seem to fall through the cracks. And a primary example of this is hockey. While the sport once thrived on the professional level in Mississippi and nearby markets, with teams like the Mississippi Riverkings, Jackson Bandits, and Mississippi SeaWolves. The majority of these teams have either relocated or folded, leaving the state without a single professional franchise.
Alongside these professional franchises, Mississippi and the Mid-South used to have a few rinks across the region with a dedicated following. However, as the professional teams disappeared, so did the rinks, and the youth ice sport participation that relied upon them.
Although Mississippi is far from a hotbed of hockey talent, the Magnolia state has produced a professional player. Jackson native Marvin Powell recently finished his sixth season as a professional with the Carolina Thunderbirds. The veteran forward/defenseman recorded a career-high 10 points this past season competing in the Federal Prospects Hockey League. Powell’s first taste of ice skating was not hockey though, it was actually figure skating.
“Me and my sister were watching the Olympic pretrials on T.V. and we saw a girl do a backflip…”
This sparked an interest in ice sports for the Powells, whose mother purchased them skating lessons for their next birthday. They both quickly fell in love with the ice; however, Powell soon noticed that all of the guys at the rink were playing hockey instead of figure skating, and at his young age decided, he to make the switch after going to a Jackson Bandits game.
“My mom ended up getting tickets to a game one night, and I just could not sit still. I think I stood up the whole time. I was excited even when the other team scored.”
Powell soon got involved in youth hockey and while there weren’t many options in Mississippi, he stood out against the in-state competition. Al Austin, now the owner of the Mid-South Ice House recalled Powell standing out as he was climbing the youth hockey ranks in Mississippi.
Austin is a prominent figure in Mississippi hockey, as he owns one of the few rinks in the state. The Ice House hosts youth, adults, and even college hockey as the largest public rink in Mississippi. This facility was opened in 2011 after a group, including Austin, recognized a need in the Mid-South area for a new rink. Previously, the Mall of Memphis had hosted the only public rink in the area. However, after its closing, Mid-South skaters were forced to either travel long distances or attend the occasional public skates held at the Desoto Civic Center, home of the Mississippi Riverkings.
Not long after the Ice house’s opening, the Riverkings shut down and the Civic Center was converted to a full-time basketball facility, leaving it the only option for local skaters. According to Austin, despite COVID and other challenges, youth and adult participation at the Ice House has remained healthy, a welcome sight for Powell, who remembers the days when Mississippi had multiple teams.
“When I played youth hockey I was able to play in Tupelo because they had the Tupelo T-Rex pro team and they had a youth program.I was able to play in Biloxi so many years because they had the Seawolves and the Surge. I was able to play in Jackson. I was able to play in Southaven. I was able to play in all these cities where at one point we had a decent amount of kids playing hockey. But when the pro hockey leaves, so does youth hockey.”
However, professional Hockey in Mississippi is not dead. Biloxi was the long-time home of the Mississippi Seawolves. However, after Hurricane Katrina, the team took two years off and then folded not long after. Biloxi would briefly host a second team, the Mississippi Surge; however, they also folded after only a few seasons. In 2021, exhibition games brought pro hockey back to Biloxi. And soon after it was announced that the Seawolves are returning and will once again play in the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Powell sees this as an opportunity for the game to once again grow in the state of Mississippi.
While this sounds very ambitious for a southern state, and one that had gone without professional hockey for years, there is passion for the sport in Mississippi. The exhibition games in Biloxi drew over 20,000 fans. Club college hockey is gaining popularity at Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and according to Austin youth hockey is growing once again. Powell, Austin, and many others are hoping that as professional hockey returns, this vision can one day become reality.
“I have a weird vision of making Mississippi a hotbed one day. I think with the people they have in place there already…my vision for it is endless, I think the possibilities are endless…I can see Mississippi adding another team in two years and it being another minor league hotbed like it was in the past.”