There is a reason the Kentucky hockey program calls their home games at the Lexington Ice Center, “Midnight Mayhem.”
During their two-game stand last weekend against cross-state rival Eastern Kentucky, the mayhem was at its finest, as the Cats took on the Colonels in a rowdy atmosphere for the “Battle of the Bourbon Barrel.”
Unlike most other sports, when Kentucky plays Eastern in hockey, it’s a massive rivalry game. That beloved Bourbon Barrel is a prized possession.
The game was so big, in fact, that former Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson gave the boys a locker room pregame speech before they took the ice.
Before the first game even started, there was a line out the door to get in. The arena sold out within minutes, and fans had to be turned away. The people that made it in went crazy and stood on their feet for a full 60 minutes of hockey until the final horn sounded.
One of the new additions to the Kentucky hockey team, left wing Patrick Lehmann, got his first taste of the Kentucky hockey crowd on Friday night.
“It was an unreal atmosphere with everyone there and having the fans know my name the first game was so cool,” said Lehmann. “It was awesome to be able to play in front of our great fans.”
— Alex Holder (@Alex_Holder_KSR) January 20, 2018
Head coach of the Wildcats, Tim Pergram, thought the atmosphere this weekend was “electric.”
“The EKU rivalry is great,” Pergram said. “I love the crowds from EKU and UK. The atmosphere is electric. Our players love this game due to both teams calling Lexington Ice Center “home.” I follow EKU and pull for their success, except when they play us.”
— Kentucky Hockey (@Kentucky_Hockey) January 20, 2018
Unfortunately, the Cats took a tough loss in the Friday matchup, despite being up 3-1 at the end of the first intermission. The toughness and rust caught up with the Cats as they lost 6-5.
Before this past Friday against EKU, the Wildcats hadn’t taken the ice in a real game since December 9th due to Christmas break. The Cats added five new faces to the roster over break, which coach Pergram said played a big part in the way Kentucky performed against the Colonels Friday night.
“We were rusty from not playing since the second weekend in December against Youngstown State,” Pergram said. “We added a few new players and we as a coaching staff changed a few of the lines. Our passing and flow of the game were off due to only practicing a few times this spring semester. The chemistry will come. We just need to gel the lines, it will take a little time.”
CATS BEAT EKU!!! ?? pic.twitter.com/43ILPPOvXf
— Kentucky Hockey (@Kentucky_Hockey) January 21, 2018
Good thing the Wildcats got another shot at the Colonels on Saturday night, as Kentucky was absolutely firing on all cylinders. The Cats beat the Colonels 5-1, and coach Pergram was ecstatic with the way his team responded.
“Saturday night we came to play and it showed we didn’t stop till the last ten minutes of the third period, which is expected when you’re up by a few goals. It’s hard to keep that intensity up for 60 minutes,” Pergram said. “I truly feel like we are 85-90% back to our level that we were at, at the end of the first semester.”
Next up for the Kentucky hockey team is the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville this Friday and Saturday. This will be the first time Kentucky faces an actual SEC opponent in school history.
“We have SECHC play to finish out the year, so everyone knows every game from this point is for seeding in the SECHC Tournament in Nashville at the Ford Center,” coach Pergram said. “My seniors have about eight games left in their Wildcat sweaters, so it’s truly a special time for them.”
It’s fair to say the Kentucky hockey program is growing and only getting better, as the Cats are off to a 15-7-1 start with heading into the home stretch. Coach Pergram loves where his program is headed.
“We actively are having lots of players contacting us about playing their college hockey for us. That’s a great sign we are doing something to attract new student-athletes to the University of Kentucky,” he said.