Former UK hockey players reflect on past 30 years


Dylan Higgins delivers a solid hit during the UK vs Alabama Hockey Match in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday, October 20, 2012. Photo by Matt Burns

By Char Grimm

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Many associate turning 30 with getting old. However, UK hockey has no intentions of slowing down as it reaches its 30th anniversary this season.

Beginning in 1983, the team formed as the Lexington Ice Center was built. Inaugural general manager Mark Shupe saw the new rink as an opportunity for UK to create a men’s club hockey team.

“Mark put the word out on campus and it really seemed like a great opportunity,” said former team member, Frank Gdovka.

Gdovka and his brother Karl came from upstate New York to join the first team. Even though their first three seasons were losing ones, UK hockey pressed on.

“It wasn’t as organized back then as it is today,” Gdovka said.

Today, veterans and current players said the organization is well-run.

“You don’t generally see a club hockey team with this level of support,” former forward Tony Valerino said.

Former goaltender Jim Borgaard agreed.

“The crowds and support is second to none in the ACHA (American Club Hockey Association) and rivals a lot of NCAA programs,” he said.

With the advent of the midnight game in its third season, UK hockey exploded.

“It’s become a tradition,” said senior goaltender, Aaron Tenfelde.

Growing up in Lexington, Tenfelde said he hadn’t heard much about the team until high school, when he began to consider joining as one of his options.

“Once I hit high school, UK hockey became competitive and more popular. The midnight games and the crowd draw were big factors,” Tenfelde said.

Brotherhood is a theme that resonates with veterans and current players alike.

“We are all one big family, and once you become a part of it you never want to leave,” Borgaard said. “It is unlike any other team I have been a part of.”

Gdovka said he still keeps in contact with his former teammates, and UK hockey has fraternity like qualities.

That alliance is what attracted current assistant captain, senior Jeremy Schmidt.

“I came down for a game, practiced with the guys and I knew it was my calling,” he said.

Former center Sean Wormald had a similar experience to Schmidt.

“Tony Valerino’s dad was my coach in juniors. He convinced me to go to Lexington and check out the team and UK,” he said.

Valerino also ended up at UK because a friend introduced him at a game.

“It was an amazing opportunity to play with leaders such as Taylor Vit, Mike Barnes and Patrick McAdams,” Valerino said.

It is not uncommon for fans to pack the Lexington Ice Center, and to show up at many of the road games.

“Every home game, and even seeing our fans on the road, made playing for UK all that much more exciting,” Worlmald said. “I always wanted to put on a show for our fans.”

UK hockey opens its 30th season Friday night at 11:55 p.m. against Indiana University. The puck drops at midnight at the Lexington Ice Center. Admission is $7 at the door.