Cool plays, hotter names

UK hockey pulls in top actresses, models for yearly poster

By BW Jones

In the minds of many UK hockey fans, Hollywood starlet and Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd will always be the face of the team.

Judd posed on the 1998-99 hockey poster, dressed in only a UK hockey jersey with her left side facing toward on-lookers, helping send the popularity of UK hockey to new heights.

The team’s signature posters are the brainchild of longtime General Manager Ian Ward, who came up with the idea after seeing the fanfare created by Judd at a UK basketball game. Ward realized how much attention Judd could bring to the team, and contacted her to explain his idea.

Ward said that one of Judd’s relatives roomed with one of Ward’s hockey players, fostering a connection. After getting in touch, the poster was set.

Since Judd posed for the UK hockey team, Rebecca Gayheart, an actress born in Kentucky, supermodel and actress Kylie Bax and 2006 Miss USA Tara Conner have posed for the UK hockey team, and have helped increase the popularity of the team on campus.

Several schools have tried to duplicate its success. Ward said the Tennessee, DePaul and Ohio State hockey teams have all tried similar concepts, though none made an impression quite like the one at Kentucky.

Ward credits the success of the posters to a philosophy that focuses on taking simple, classy photographs along the same lines as World War II pin-up girls. He also strives to make the model as comfortable as possible, giving their chosen representative a significant say throughout the entire process.

This year’s model, Emily Cox, said that she remembers “seeing Ashley Judd and then Rebecca Gayheart on those posters when I was younger,” and marvels at the idea of joining their ranks. “It’s almost surreal, but it’s very exciting.”

Cox, a recent UK alumna and Miss Kentucky 2008, also feels that her strong ties to the university and the state make her selection more meaningful to her.

The posters, in addition to creating invaluable publicity for the team, play a major role in fundraising for the team. As a club sport, UK hockey receives only minimal support from the university. According to the team’s Web site, their annual budget is more than $55,000. Sales of the poster, along with sponsorships, ticket sales and merchandise cover nearly the entire budget.

Ward said that the poster helps out in other, more unusual ways as well.

“Teams will tell us ‘We’ll come play you, but we have 25 players and four coaches who want a poster,’ ” Ward said.

Several team members said that the legacy of the poster follows them on the road. “People that don’t know anything about us at all still associate (the poster) with us,” Ward said.

This year, the poster is especially important for both Ward and Cox. Jeff Owens, a sergeant first class in the 101st Airborne Division, a Fort Campbell, Ky., based unit that has several members deployed to the Middle East, asked to purchase an Ashley Judd poster for the troops. Ward quickly sent a shipment of posters to Owens, as well as a thank-you letter for the job being done by the troops.

More shipments followed. When Ward received a photograph of several troops proudly holding their posters in front of an AH-64 Apache helicopter, Ward “had it in my hands for five minutes before I decided it was going to be the cover of our 25th anniversary program.”

Cox said that the poster took on new meaning to her when she found out about the exchange.

“If I play even a small part in bringing a little of home to them, that’s huge to me.” Cox said. “That really makes it all worthwhile.”

This year’s poster was shot Wednesday, and it will be a few weeks before the poster will be distributed. In the meantime, the UK hockey team will start its season at home against Central Michigan on Friday and Saturday.