Not your typical club team

Rowdy fans make home-ice a cool place for UK

By Jon Hale

At first glance, freezing temperatures, post-midnight start times and a lack of funding would seem to be enough to doom a small club team.

So how does the UK hockey team make the Lexington Ice Center a popular destination long after most people have gone to bed? Add a few hundred college co-eds, a pinch of late-night hysteria and a little Garry Glitter music and allow ingredients to chill.

“It’s a crowd like no other,” said Alex Robinson, a UK junior defenseman.

The Cool Cats, who play in the Southeast Conference of Division II of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, swept a pair of games from Ferris State University over the weekend to improve to 16-9-2 on the season. Robinson said UK’s success has been due in large part to the home-ice atmosphere at the Lexington Ice Center.

“This crowd provides a huge advantage for us,” Robinson said. “We can hear them chanting before the game from the locker room. It gets everybody pumped up.”

Manager and announcer Jim Hinkley stirs the crowd up during games with an eclectic soundtrack of rock ballads. During Saturday night’s game, fans heard the theme to the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Ghostbusters” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.”

But no song gets the fans going like Garry Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part Two.” The song is played after every goal netted by the home team.

The fans also add to the home-ice advantage by berating opposing teams. After each Cool Cat score, fans break out into a chorus of “you sucks” closing out the song by yelling in unison “we’re gonna beat the f— out of you!”

The university provides about 1 percent of the funding needed to operate the team, according to the UK hockey Web site. As a club team, UK hockey does not receive the funding provided to more prominent varsity sports.

But that hasn’t seemed to slow the Cool Cats’ progress.

Most of the team’s $65,000-plus budget comes from ticket sales to those rowdy fans, as well as sponsorships from local businesses. Players also have to pay a $750 registration fee each year.

Despite financial strains, the Cool Cats have developed a reputation for having competitive, winning teams, which have won at least 19 games in each of the past three seasons.

“I have traveled with the team all over the country and I can tell you this: Kentucky hockey fans rule!” Hinkley wrote in a letter to the fans printed in the team’s program. “There are no other fans anywhere in the American Collegiate Hockey Association that can hold a candle to you.”

Robinson said UK doesn’t enjoy the same support when they play away from home.

“On the road there is no crowd,” he said. “Just family, friends and maybe 15 fans or so.”

The Cool Cats have also attracted a few celebrity fans. Since the 1998-99 season, the UK hockey team has produced a schedule poster featuring a prominent Kentucky beauty, clad in only a UK hockey sweater. The first poster, which remains the most popular, featured actress Ashley Judd in a No. 1 sweater.

Actressses Rebecca Gayheart and Leah Lail, models Julie and Shawnie Costello, Kylie Bax and Alison List, boxing announcer Amy Hayes, and former-Miss USA Tara Conner have since graced the annual hockey poster.

Maybe it’s the late-night party atmosphere. Maybe it’s whatever the security guards are looking for when they search fans entering the arena. Maybe it’s those famous hockey posters. Whatever the secret ingredient for success is, fans like Robbie Brooks think the UK hockey team has found it.

“I don’t really know anything about hockey, but the atmosphere at these games is just electric,” said Brooks, an agriculture biotechnology sophomore. “You can’t help but get caught up in it.”