Hockey in Hotlanta: What Went Wrong?


Cate Shaughnessy

Thawed Out: Hopeful ATL hockey fans reminisce about the times the city housed the icy sport – and often ask why it no longer exists.

When considering a professional sports hub, it’s common for Atlanta to come to mind. Although the city is popular among the media, the Peach State seems consistently unlucky in keeping winter sports alive. Unlike other teams, like Braves baseball or Hawks basketball, Atlanta lacks support for National Hockey League (NHL) teams. However, with the rise of social media apps like TikTok, the once-forgotten love for hockey is returning through the next generation of puck-lovers.

Atlanta has a complex relationship with hockey. The city previously maintained NHL teams, including the Atlanta Flames and the Atlanta Thrashers. Still, both teams eventually left due to various factors, including poor attendance and lack of profitability. In addition, many Atlantans have expressed a lack of interest in hockey, which can contribute to low attendance. Despite its wavering popularity, a passionate fanbase for the sport remains in Atlanta and the surrounding area. Thus, there have been efforts to bring a new NHL team to the city in recent years. “I feel like hockey isn’t as popular in Atlanta since it doesn’t snow here, and winter culture is weaker,” said sophomore Tucker Heaton. “But if there were a team, I would want to go to every game.”

While most people enjoy hockey’s fast-paced style, younger fans seem more focused on the players than the game itself. With the help of social media, Gen-Z fans can read up on fast facts before the game, leading to emerging favorites. Jack Hughes, a center for the New Jersey Devils, has taken TikTok by storm, creating a new audience for hockey. Sophomore Rhys Wills is excited about possibly seeing a Devils game. “I would go to a game just to see Jack Hughes,” she said. “I would watch him more than the game!”

Although Atlanta has a slim chance of national hockey returning, hopeful fans can turn to other NHL teams and the city’s minor league team for entertainment. The Atlanta Gladiators, based in Gwinnett, offer a fun hockey experience, drawing a wide range of fans. While the Gladiators are part of the East Coast Hockey League and are two levels under the NHL, the games promise to be just as exciting. In addition, surrounding hockey towns such as Nashville or Raleigh are a short drive away for avid fans. “Gladiators games have been my favorite part of winter for years,” said junior Cecily Sullivan. “I wish Atlanta had an NHL hockey team, though.”
Thanks to TikTok and a new generation of fans, widespread interest in hockey has risen significantly. Unfortunately, more than current popularity levels are needed to bring hockey back to Atlanta, as the NHL has yet to make plans for a third franchise.