Streaking Cool Cats eye postseason play

By Metz Camfield

The UK hockey team took to the ice last weekend looking to take another step toward their dream of making it to the Division II National Tournament for the first time in 14 years.

With just over a month until the Regional Playoffs, where UK will have the chance to play its way into the National Tournament, the Cool Cats are trying to put the final touches on their season as they prepare for postseason play.

After humbling the Dayton Flyers 6-1 on Friday at Dayton, the Cool Cats returned home on Saturday to the Lexington Ice Center and defeated the Flyers 7-0. The win improved UK to a 12-9-2 record on the year, but more importantly, the Cool Cats have won five of their last six games after struggling earlier in the year.

Many of the UK players credit their turnaround to senior forward Mike Barnes.

“He’s an athlete, he’s always at the right spot and his work ethic creates everything,” junior forward Chris Protenic said. “He’s the guy where you know if you work hard positive things will go your way, and that’s what he’s done.”

Barnes, the team’s captain, was selected earlier this year to compete for the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II Select Squad. The team, which includes some of the best Division II players in the country, played over the winter break, traveling to Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

“I was really proud to be a part of it,” Barnes said. “Representing UK meant everything. I’m a senior, and it was kind of like my last hurrah.”

Head coach Rob Docherty said he knew the experience would have a lasting effect on his senior leader.

“He is a true leader; he leads by example and is always giving 110 percent,” Docherty said. “He doesn’t expect from others what he can’t do.”

The journey lasted 11 days, but it didn’t take too long for Barnes to find success overseas. In his second game during the visit to Germany, Barnes found the back of the net on a shot from the point.

“I felt like my work paid off, and I really got to be part of something great,” Barnes said, “If you mess up you don’t play. They picked the best guys for specific roles.”

The experience of playing on the select team appears to have already benefited the Cool Cats. In his first two games since returning from the trip, Barnes has had an immediate impact. In the two wins over Dayton, Barnes scored a goal and recorded eight assists.

With Barnes’ output over the weekend, many of his teammates believe he could be the difference in UK making the National Tournament for the first time in 14 years.

Following the season’s final ranking, the top two teams from each region will receive an automatic berth in the tournament. Teams seeded third through 10th in each region will then play in the Regional Playoffs for the final two spots from each region. With the Cool Cats currently sitting at No. 11 in the Southeast Region, the only chance UK will have of making the National Tournament will likely come via the Regional Playoffs.

But with Barnes’ play over the weekend and the Cool Cats riding a four-game winning streak, senior defender Patrick McAdams believes they can achieve their season goal of making it to the tournament.

“After last year falling one game short of nationals, our goal this year has to be to make it there,” he said. “We had a tough start, but we’re taking it one game at a time and we’re rolling pretty good right now.”

UK will continue its quest for a tournament berth this weekend against the South Jersey Raptors. The Cool Cats will face-off against the South Jersey Raptors on Friday and Saturday at midnight at the Lexington Ice Center.