I have lived in South Georgia all of my life. That means, with the exception of a couple of freak storms, the most ice I have ever seen in one place has been in a glass of sweet tea.

With that being said, I now have a confession to make. I suddenly like ice hockey. You may have heard of the game, since it is played on "frozen ponds" around the world.

ABAC athletics director Alan Kramer is probably the biggest hockey fan in Tifton. At least I think it is safe to say he is the biggest St. Louis Blues fan.

For the past couple of years, he would tell me things about the NHL and I got where I suddenly developed an interest. As we talked about it, he would tell me I needed to go see a game.

He even got me to take part in his fantasy hockey league, of which I'm currently third out of eight players.

Anyway, when the 2003-04 schedule for the Atlanta Thrashers was announced, we both noticed the Blues would be in Atlanta for one game this year.

That contest was played last Wednesday and I went along with my hockey guru. ABAC Fillies tennis coach Alton Hudgins also came along, as well as Roger Parsons, a friend of Alan's from St. Louis. In other words, another Blues' fan.

The game was great in person. The biggest difference to me was being able to see the puck more clearly. That had been my biggest problem with trying to follow the game on television.

Even though the game ended in a 1-1 tie, there was still plenty of excitement. The crowd oohed and ahhed at every turn and even though I sat in the press box, I was right there with them.

The game in person is extremely fast and very hard hitting. Thrashers' defenseman Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre was checking (hitting) so hard, I believe he should go out and play fullback for the Falcons during the off-season.

I kept being asked afterwards, did you really enjoy it? The answer is yes. I really did. In fact, I am looking forward to my next game.

Seeing a Thrashers game or any hockey game in person is something I would encourage any sports fan in this area to try. The action is fast and if you love football, you will enjoy the hitting.

HEATLEY RETURNS: While we did not plan it like that, we were also able to see Dany Heatley's return to the ice for the Thrashers.

Heatley had been out since September after driving a car involved in a crash that resulted in the death of teammate Dan Snyder.

While he rehabbed from his injuries, which included torn knee ligaments, Heatley also had to come to terms with what happened to him and his teammate.

In a press conference after the Blues' game, Heatley said about Snyder, "I think of him all the time. He was the perfect teammate."

Dressed in a hat and warm-up suit adorned with Snyder's No. 37, the Thrasher wing said he, "was not worried about fan's reaction," when Atlanta is on the road the rest of the season.

Heatley won't have to worry about the fans in Atlanta, who gave him a standing ovation when he took the ice for warmups and when he was introduced as a member of the starting lineup.

"We have got great fans," he said afterward.

Criminal charges could still be pending against Heatley over the crash. I just feel like that would be a waste, though.

Snyder's family has forgiven Heatley for the crash. Besides that, I can think of no prison more severe than his memories, because I am sure he will think of that incident for the rest of his life.

It would not a case of an athlete "getting off", it would be letting a human being try to get on with his life after making a terrible mistake.

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