Postseason dreams on verge of reality

By Metz Camfield

Most athletic teams have one dream and one goal at the beginning of a season: win a championship.

But before a team can be crowned champion, it has to qualify for the postseason. The UK hockey team (18-9-2-0) helped its cause toward that goal in a big way over the weekend with two resounding 6-2 victories over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

“This team is destined,” head coach Rob Docherty said. “They have worked very hard all season. The rankings have been a little tough on us in my opinion. People don’t see what type of game it is, just the spreadsheet of the final. Finally they’re seeing we’re a pretty good team.”

In the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the top two teams from each of four regions (northeast, southeast, central and west) qualify to play in the National Championship playoffs, which will be held at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Fla. Teams ranked three through 10 will participate in their respective regional playoffs, with the top-two finishers receiving National Championship tournament berths.

Saturday night’s contest pitted UK, ranked No. 10 in the southeast region, against Iowa, the No. 11 team in the central region.

Senior captain Mike Barnes spoke of the importance of a weekend series against another highly ranked opponent.

“We’re fighting for a spot to get into regionals,” said Barnes, a defenseman. “They’re 11, we’re 10, we were trying to make a statement. We want to stay in the rankings. We had to win and that’s what we did.”

The Cool Cats have been doing a lot of that recently — they are winners of 10 straight matches and have yet to lose in 2008. That’s just how senior defenseman Patrick McAdams would like to keep it.

“We just have to keep winning,” McAdams said. “We have to stay focused or we might get knocked out. The next rankings for regionals come out next weekend, so it’s really important.”

The only way to sustain the production key to UK’s winning streak is to keep the right mindset, Barnes said.

“We’ve had a lot of production from individual players,” Barnes said. “Our strength of schedule has been a little harder and the players, the team and the system have been producing. At this point it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We just have to continue to do what we’re doing regardless of who we’re up against.”

For the five seniors on the team, each win increases the chance of prolonging their UK careers into the postseason.

“We got to regionals last year,” Barnes said. “Just making it there is not an achievement, we want to get something done. We put our whole lives into this. As seniors, it’s our last year, it would mean everything.”

McAdams, an assistant captain, agreed.

“It would mean a lot,” McAdams said. “We have four more games, it would be nice to extend our careers into regionals or nationals. We’ve won ten in a row now, it’d be really special.”

UK plays two games against Tennessee (14-5-0-1) this weekend. A sweep would extend the Cool Cats’ winning streak to 12 games and potentially elevate their southeast region rankings. The challenge is one the team welcomes, Docherty said.

“We’ll take on anybody,” he said. “And we’re ready for them.”