KNOXVILLE, TENN. – Last weekend, the Southern Professional Hockey League began its tenth season of bringing hockey to the South. Today it lost one of the people who made the league’s existence possible.
Tuesday afternoon, the Knoxville Ice Bears announced that its principal owner John Axford had passed away at the age of 78. Axford is credited with keeping professional hockey alive in Knoxville when the Knoxville Speed franchise folded in 2002. The following is the team release with the announcement of Axford’s passing:
It is with a heavy heart that the Knoxville Ice Bears family announces the passing of Owner John Axford.
Axford’s love of hockey, his desire to see it in remain East Tennessee, and his willingness to financially support the game were pivotal in the founding, growth and development of the Knoxville Ice Bears organization.
Ice Bears President and General Manager Mike Murray said, “The Ice Bears wouldn’t be here without him. Every skate that hits the Coliseum ice is a reflection of his passion for seeing hockey in East Tennessee flourish. We are all doing what we love, and our fans watch the team they love because of his influence and involvement. Our deepest sympathy to his family as he will missed dearly.”
Following the demise of the Knoxville Speed in the spring of 2002, Axford rallied hockey supporters and led an ownership group committed to seeing hockey continue in Knoxville. It was through those efforts that the Knoxville Ice Bears were born, and it was under the oversight of Axford and his fellow owners that the Ice Bears quickly developed into the most successful franchise in the league, winning 3 championships and four regular season titles since first hitting the ice in the fall of 2002.
Current Ice Bears Head Coach Mike Craigen played under Axford’s ownership before returning as Head Coach three seasons ago.
“Ax is the reason the Ice Bears are here today. He is the reason that fans have high-level affordable hockey to watch and the reason that the players and staff of the Knoxville Ice Bears have jobs within in the sport they love. Ax was a firm and decisive businessman but (also) a caring and compassionate human being. We have lost a true ambassador for our organization today and we will miss him deeply”.
Services for John Axford will be held at Central Baptist Church of Bearden on Thursday, October 31 at 5 pm. The church is located at 6300 Deane Hill Drive, Knoxville, TN 37919.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Knoxville Amateur Hockey Association’s KAHA youth program, which allows financially burdened families to involve their children in the sport of hockey. These donations can me mailed to KAHA, P.O. Box 22028, Knoxville, TN 37933 – Memo: AXFORD Youth Hockey Donation.
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