Hockey closes regular season with loss to IU

By Jon Hale

With a bid to the postseason already wrapped up, the UK hockey team had one task left Saturday night: saying goodbye to its seven seniors.

Playing in their last regular season game at the Lexington Ice Center, the UK seniors finished the regular season with a 5-3 loss to Indiana. Long after the Hoosiers scored an empty-net goal as time expired, the seniors remained on the ice, taking pictures with family and friends.

“It’s too bad we didn’t end with a win,” senior goalie Nathan Lyons said. “But we played good against a great team tonight.”

IU jumped out to an early lead with a goal from forward Joe Fornari only 29 seconds into the game. Senior defenseman Patrick McAdams pulled UK even with his own goal with 13:51 left in the first period.

The Cool Cats took the lead in the second period with two goals from Tony Valerino. The junior forward netted his first goal with 5:18 remaining in the second period and followed with a power-play goal two minutes later. Valerino’s goals would be UK’s last of the night.

The Hoosiers closed the game on a 4-0 run. Defenseman Brandon Dornish’s goal at the 16:19 mark in the third period gave IU the lead for good.

Even though he didn’t get the outcome he hoped for, Lyons was quick to thank the fans for their strong support in his final game.

“It meant a lot to see the big crowd here for our last home game,” Lyons said.

Lyons said that even though this senior class wouldn’t play any more games at the Lexington Ice Center, their careers aren’t over.

After locking up the ninth-seed in the final American Collegiate Hockey Association Southeast Regional rankings, the Cats were already assured a playoff berth. The tournament starts Friday in Washington, D.C.

“We are really excited about the playoffs,” Lyons said. “We have a good chance to go far.”

Next weekend’s ACHA Southeast Regional Tournament matches the third- through 10th-ranked teams in the region against each other. The top two teams from the regional tournament will join Florida Gulf Coast University and Miami (Ohio), the top two teams in the region, at the ACHA National Tournament on March 12-15 in Fort Meyers, Fla.

While the Cool Cats and the seniors have big plans for the playoffs, Lyons said that no matter how the season ends, the seniors have formed a bond that will last forever.

“These guys aren’t just my teammates,” Lyons said. “They’ve been my best friends for the last five years.”