Tight-knit UK hockey squad is ready for late nights in ‘electric’ atmosphere


The Kentucky Wildcats celebrate after scoring a goal against Middle Tennessee State at Lexington Ice Center on Friday, September 15, 2017.

Jacob Eads

The UK Hockey team has been busy bracing for a stirring season that’s sure to keep you up past your bedtime.

Coming off of a season marked by change, the team is prepping with continued success in mind, with players hungry to out-skate, out-hustle and even out-laugh their opponents. This team of tightly-knit Kentucky transplants is doing its best to outwork their former selves.

“We’re all gassed and not fully back into shape the way we’d like to be, but this is what it takes to get us there,” said senior center and newly-minted team captain Jimmy Kasch.

The team will kick off the season in its midnight home opener Friday against the University of Akron, a game that players hope draws fans into the familiarly raucous Lexington Ice Center.

“There’s just one word, and that’s electric,” said sophomore defenseman Ryan Duffy of the rink’s atmosphere. “We get a lot of energy from the fans… it’s like nothing I’ve ever played in before.”

Empty seats in the Lexington Ice Center, much like silence, are hard to come by. By the time the puck drops each night, rowdy fans have already packed themselves to the brim in the sardine container surrounding the ice, but the best part is, they don’t seem to mind the phobia inducing-close quarters or the lingering smell of frozen sweat.

“They’re by far the best fans in college hockey,” said senior defenseman Max Boss. “No club team in the nation, I guarantee you, sells out an ice rink almost every single night.”

While the players admit they rely a lot on their famed fans, they’ve been putting in their fair share of work in the preseason as well. Perhaps the biggest asset available to UK Hockey players this season is their comradery.

Between extensive road trips and late-night practices, the team is forced to spend an uncomfortable amount of time with each other. While they may not always appreciate the liberal amount of pranks or jokes coming from their teammates, they say the time they spend together has done them well.

“We’ve just grown so close with each other that it’d be weird playing with anyone else,” Kasch said.

The time these players spend together is completely voluntary. As a club sport, the team receives no funding from the university, meaning they devote their time to the ice without the benefit of scholarships.

While most of UK’s players once dreamed of a professional hockey career, their stop at UK is likely the last for many. That’s why balancing hockey with school is so important to the team.

“School comes first. Ultimately, I’d like to think it’s the other way around,” said Kasch. “In my perfect world I’m getting paid to do this in the future, but that’s just not the reality behind it.”

It’s clear these players are playing simply for the love of the game, a truth that is hitting many of the team’s leaders hard as they enter their last season representing the Wildcats.

“It just means everything, putting all of our cards on the table… this is our last chance to really make something special of ourselves and the team,” Boss said.

Fans who opt in for UK Hockey’s boisterous midnight games this season can be sure that this team is going to give it their all in hopes of making a run in the national championship tournament this year. But the guys on the other side of the plexiglass say the real prize is seeing how the team has progressed during their time at UK.

“Obviously, I want to go out with an amazing season, which I intend to, but what means the most to me is seeing how far we’ve come,” Kasch said.

Puck drop for both Friday and Saturday’s games will be at 11:55 p.m. at the Lexington Ice Center.