Homework and hockey: Brett Quinn’s story


Kentucky players celebrate after scoring a goal during the UK vs. Louisville hockey game on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, at Lexington Ice Center in Lexington, Kentucky. UK lost 7-5. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Brett Quinn is not a morning person.

Unfortunately, he often finds himself awake before sunrise, usually with a pair of ice skates on his feet and a stick in hand.

“We’re on the ice at 5:30 a.m.,” Quinn said. “To not be a morning person and to have to do that, it takes a different mindset to just be able to wake up and be able to go 100% in practice.”

Morning grogginess quickly evaporates as over 30 bodies pile into the Lexington Ice Center, inconveniently located in a below-average part of town, sandwiched between a Bible-themed putt-putt course and a Wing Zone.

Once inside, a rink takes center stage. The occasional dents in the dasher boards and paint-chipped walls give the place some charm, if you can get past the musty, locker room scented aroma that pervades the air.

The Ice Center is the sole place that Lexingtonians can continually get their ice-skating fix year-round, assuming the building hasn’t caught on fire again, or another Zamboni hasn’t exploded.

“We all love to play there. It’s our home,” Quinn said.

Quinn, like everyone else, wipes the crust from his eyes as he laces up his skates. A rigorous hour and a half of stickhandling, passing and shooting drills ensues.

After practice, a quick trip home to try and seize an extra ounce of sleep passes the time, as a full day of classes awaits.

Thus is the lavish life of a Kentucky hockey player.

Glen Ellyn, Illinois, just 24 miles from downtown Chicago, is the hometown for Quinn, as well as the birthplace of his love for hockey.

Since the age of two, a hockey stick and puck have often accompanied the now sophomore Quinn, something he credits his grandfather for.

“He was a big coach and player, so it kind of started from him,” he recalled. “Based on that I just never stopped, and I’ve continued to love it more and more ever since.”

From junior leagues to travel teams, Quinn has experienced about every level of hockey that exists. That is, until he got to Lexington.

UK hockey is home to “Midnight Mayhem.” Every home game for the Wildcats sees the puck drop at midnight, often in front of a raucous, sold-out crowd.

A couple-hundred tired yet wired fans pack out the Ice Center at every opportunity, creating a boisterous ambiance that is unrivaled by any UK Athletics event.

For those wondering how the university works with its hockey team that operates in the wee hours of the night, they don’t.

The team is recognized as a club sport, meaning they are not organized, operated or funded by the school.

Despite this, the team has zero trouble garnering the support of students, the backbone of the fanbase, something Quinn and his teammates witness every game night.

“We saw that with Louisville, us players got to the rink just before 9:30 p.m. and there were probably 150, 200 people already there in line waiting to get in,” he said. “It just kind of shows that people care about games and what we do, even though it is a club sport here.”

Quinn would not be able to experience the loud crowds and midnight puck drop his freshman year, however.

Arriving in Lexington in 2020, his Wildcat debut would be brought to a halt, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over a year would pass until Quinn would get his chance to take to the ice in a game for Kentucky, as the Cats opened their season on Sept. 10 against rival Tennessee.

“To skate out against Tennessee in that first weekend, to come around the net and look at the fanbase that we have, and how everyone was really excited to be there was really an awesome feeling,” Quinn said.

Fast forward over four months and Quinn is fully immersed in the life of a student athlete.

Between practice, games, hitting the gym, attending class and staying ahead on classwork, Quinn’s off-kilter schedule isn’t one focused on rest and relaxation.

To cushion the blow of 5:30 a.m. practices, he adjusted his class schedule this semester to later in the day, so he can recuperate and catch some extra shuteye when possible.

“It’s definitely different, but I’m not really too opposed to it,” Quinn said. “I guess it’s something that all the players have to start to buy into and love it more and more.”

Sometimes Quinn is even surprised at the effort he exerts into his hockey and schooling.

“I’m not sure I would’ve believed the amount of time and work that we do put in for it,” he said. “I definitely would’ve seen myself at least playing, but in order to take as much time as we do, and to still go to all of our classes … I mean, like we said, this is a club sport here. None of us are expecting to go professional.”

The stereotype of student athletes not having to attend their classes is, unsurprisingly, one that does not apply to club hockey players in Lexington, Kentucky. Quinn knows that he is not at UK to make it to the NHL; school is important to him.

“It’s kind of how we’re expected to make our living for the next 30 to 40 years. So, it’s not something we really slack on at all,” he said.

That living for Quinn is going to be somewhere in the finance world, at least that’s the plan.

After this semester, he intends on applying to the upper division of finance in the Gatton College of Business, with the intention of eventually completing the four-plus-one MBA program in the college.

The quaint confines of the Gatton B and E building is often considered homebase for Quinn as he maneuvers through school on the weekdays.

Come Friday and Saturday nights, however, he trades in his Excel sheets and account statements for saucer passes and slap shots.

Kentucky currently sits in third place in the South division of the Tri-State Collegiate Hockey League with four games to go in the regular season.

The end of the season will see eight teams advance to a league tournament, with the winner of the tournament earning an automatic bid to the ACHA Division II Southeast Regional tournament held in late February.

Four teams from the regional tournament will qualify for the ACHA Division II National Tournament for a chance at a national championship.

While the Cats have come close in the past, they have never qualified for the National Tournament, something Quinn would like to change during his time in Lexington.

“That has never been done before, and I think that’s something that with the recruiting class that we keep getting in every year, it’s something that we can do in the next couple of years,” he said.

Kentucky’s final home game of the season is set for Feb. 12 against the Michigan Wolverines, leading into the playoffs that begin just six days after on Feb. 18, where Quinn and the rest of the team will attempt to make UK hockey history.