The man many say kept hockey in Knoxville has died, according to the Knoxville Ice Bears.

Ice Bears owner John Axford was credited with keeping a team in town when the Knoxville Speed left in 2002. A press release credits his leadership and support with the creation of the Ice Bears franchise, and their continued success.

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."

Current Ice Bears Head Coach Mike Craigen was a former player under Axford's ownership.

"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 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 at 5 pm, 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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