After the Carolina Thunderbirds finished their inaugural season in Winston-Salem, their home rink at the Annex has more hockey in the near future.
In October, the Thunderbirds and Winston-Salem Fairgrounds facilitators won a two-year bid to host the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League Tournament and finalized a contract in April. The event, which is scheduled for Feb. 15-17, 2019, at the Annex will be the tournament’s quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games.
It’s a chance to host club-level NCAA Division-I teams from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia and North Carolina — including Wake Forest, which uses the Annex as its home. The hope is to showcase Winston-Salem as a destination for hockey, a similar concept to Greensboro’s longtime association with the ACC men’s and women’s basketball tournaments.
“It’s one of those things where it seems like Greensboro has a headlock on a lot of basketball tournaments,” said Scott Brand, the general manager of the Carolina Thunderbirds. “We’re hoping we can do the same with hockey as a destination.”
And fans unable to attend the weekend will have the opportunity to watch from afar. Facilitators are looking into streaming the games live on YouTube, with the possibility of a televised championship. According to Brand, the Thunderbirds’ director of communications Zac DeBeaussaert will handle media for the two sets of weekend games with a likelihood of color commentary from the teams in town for the ACCHL Tournament.
While next season’s schedule for the Thunderbirds has yet to be released, the weekend is slated for away games. Brand sees the tournament as a chance for the Thunderbirds to scout potential players.
“From a strictly selfish point of view, it’s going to give us an opportunity to scout any teams,” Brand said with a laugh. “That’s one way to look at this, and we have some pretty good North Carolina players who have developed into some great hockey players.”
The price of a ticket for adults is $10 while college students can get in for $5 and children and students under 18 have free admission. A tournament pass is also available for the entire weekend — $10 for college students and $20 for adults.
The Annex, with a seating capacity of 3,150, is roughly three times the size of the arena in Charlottesville, Va., which was the tournament site for the previous three years.
It’s actually the second time Winston-Salem moved to bid for the tournament — the first attempt was denied two years ago. According to Robert Mulhearn, the city’s public facilities manager, the Thunderbirds were a major factor in the ACCHL coming to the area.