We’re now less than a month away from the start of the 2018-19 school year and the start of another season of U of L athletics. You’re probably at least somewhat well-versed about the state of the football, baseball and men’s and women’s basketball programs, but this is the perfect time to get educated on the other teams Louisville will be fielding this season.
One of those teams is the Cardinal men’s ice hockey squad, a sport which isn’t an “official” sport at U of L, but isn’t a club team either. To expand on that and much more, we talked with the program’s Kyle Hughes.
CC: Briefly, what’s the background of ice hockey at U of L? How long has the program been around and how successful has it been?
UofL hockey has been around since 1996. It was a program that did not have success for a very long time, hence why we did not beat Kentucky for the first time until 2013. However, Kentucky has now not beaten us in our last 14 games vs them.
Head Coach Brian Graham took over the program in 2011, and we have had some good teams since then. In 2014-15 season we joined the TSCHL Conference and won the conference tournament our first 3 seasons in the league. ACHA uses computer rankings so if there’s any BCS fans out there what’s up.
We were ranked in the Top 10 from 2015- October of 2017 and expect to be ranked in the Top 10 this season. In 2016 and 2017 we made the postseason going to the Southeast Regional. Our post season is very similar to the College Baseball format except you’re put into the regional where you are located. Top 12 in each region (Northeast, Southeast, Central, West) make regionals where Top 2 get an auto bid to Nationals (Our College World Series). 9-12 in each regional can be replaced by an auto bid from a conference champion ranked outside of Top 12.
CC: People think of U of L ice hockey as a club sport, but that’s not really the case. Can you explain?
We play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA). The ACHA follows the same rule book as NCAA and eligibility, except the big difference is you get a 5th year of eligibility for grad students and you cannot be over the age of 25. There are schools in the ACHA where it is ran as a varsity sport or club departments where the coaches and staff are paid and have things such as recruiting budgets, and schools pay for a majority if not all costs of having an ACHA program.
We run our program as much like a Division 1 Program as possible such as we have a full coaching staff, trainer, equipment managers, scouts, graphic designer, photographer, 1080 HD livestream, stay in nice hotels on the road, and take the same busses as D1 athletes (except we have to cover the cost).
There are only 60 NCAA Division 1 Hockey teams and 88 Division 3 programs so the other schools are “club,” making ACHA the biggest governance of college hockey. However what other sport has a “club” team beaten and NCAA D1 team on more than one occasion?
There have been multiple guys that have played professional over in Europe after playing “club” hockey. This past year UNLV had a player get an NCAA D1 offer to transfer to AIC. Right now there is a player from FGCU playing in the ECHL (minor league affiliate to the New York Rangers). In 2014 Daniel Walcott who played a year of “club” hockey at Lindenwood was drafted in the 5th round by the New York Rangers. We have currently a player that has played on the Lebanon National, guys that have played NCAA and transferred to us and multiple players that could play professional somewhere in Europe if they wanted after graduation.
Are our players D1 Athletes? No but we probably are the fastest sport played at UofL right now, and seeing them as just club players really isn’t accurate.
CC: There was a story recently about Louisville Ice Hockey and U of L having preliminary discussions about bringing hockey to campus. Whats up with that?
I wasn’t at the meeting so I don’t know and I don’t have any details but rinks are not like other sports facilities. There’s a reason why schools like Liberty, Iowa State, Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island, Georgia just to name a few there’s more that have rinks on campus for their ACHA hockey teams. Here Liberty’s rink this is what their “club” program has.
CC: What’s the hockey culture like in the city of Louisville in general?
Hockey isn’t as popular here as other areas however, we are literally the best team in the state (Hockey News). It isn’t as popular as other states since it does not get cold enough here often enough to skate on ponds or where towns put up public rinks outside in their parks in the winter. However, contrary to popular believe hockey has grown everywhere. Now you are constantly seeing guys being drafted from South Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Southern California, and the number 1 draft pick in 2015 Auston Mathews is from Arizona.
There is a lot more hockey here than people realize since there are a lot of transplants in Louisville now especially with Northern Companies like G.E and Ford moving jobs down here. There is a men’s league that has formed NCAA D1 players an ex pro or two. Louisville natives Jack Surowiec is playing D1 at Holy Cross, Robbie Hennessy recently graduated playing D1 at Providence, Joe Cox recently graduated playing D1 at Michigan State, and Paul McAvoy who played youth in Louisville a few years but is from Richmond, KY playing D1 at Colgate. Right now because of transplants, good hockey at UofL (youth team change name to Ice Cardinals), and help from the Nashville Predators numbers are up. The Nashville Predators have a G.O.A.L Program in Louisville coming up where kids can try hockey for free and they also have a program called Little Preds where they introduce hockey at a low price where they provide full equipment, ice time and oversee the program in Louisville. https://www.nhl.com/predators/community/youthhockey/little-preds.
CC: How’s the 2018-19 Cardinal squad looking?
Things are looking very good for the 2018-19 season. We return our top scorers from Alberta and Montreal. In addition, we are adding about 18 new guys. Our roster for the most part is looking like it will be Team New England/ Team Chicago. We are bringing a lot of guys in from Juniors which is like AAU for other sports only these guys play 70 games or so a year until they age out at 21.
It’s kind of weird to explain how different college hockey works but with Juniors we will have a lot of Freshman that will be 20/21 years old but that is the norm with college hockey. We were able to get a lot of guys with NCAA offers to chose us because a School like Louisville with a solid fan base is more appealing than going to a more expensive private school in a less desirable city like Springfield or Worcester Mass. This is why a school like FGCU has been a powerhouse in ACHA Hockey (even before Dunk City). We will find out how we stack up against them as we fly down to Fort Myers for 2 games in October.
CC: What else would you like the fans to know about U of L ice hockey?
We have 15 regular season home games this season including a regular season showcase in Louisville with Liberty, Penn State, and Indiana. We are hosting our TSCHL Conference Tournament as well. We have built a solid fan base and probably average around 700 plus fans a game (rink can’t seat many more than that) sometimes selling out our games.
People should come out to a game, hockey is a sport once you go to once you’re hooked, that’s how we have built a solid fan base. A lot of people went to our game once because they’ve never been to a hockey game and now they own season tickets.
We generate about $40,000 a year in revenue from ticket sales and merchandise however, this doesn’t come close to our budget. Each player has to pay 3k a year to play on top of 98% of our roster paying out of state tuition. We do not have a marketing budget or anything like that so we rely on our social media to get our info out there. We are looking for any sponsors or even help with some things such as marketing so guys don’t have to pay as much to play. As a nonprofit donations are a tax write off.
Go follow our twitter @uoflicehockey Instagram @UofL_icehockey, like us on Facebook, tune in to our free 1080hd multiple camera livestream, and come out and see the fastest sport played at Louisville. You will find out that you will be a new hockey fan.