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Photo: Gage O'Dell[/caption]
What a HUGE weekend it was for Kentucky Hockey in the bluegrass state. Coach Tim Pergram and the Cats went into the weekend with an overall record of 17-7-1-1, but two consecutive victories have led to incredible momentum heading into their first-ever SEC Tournament.
Kentucky put a pounding on Tennessee Friday night, and then on Saturday, they took down No. 1 seed and reigning SEC champion Georgia.
Friday was Senior Night for the Hockey Cats, where they absolutely dominated the Vols not only in scoring, but also in winning the physical battle. Kentucky put up 11 goals with UT just scoring one the whole night. Seniors Beck Schultz, Aaron Bickle, Cory Day, Francis Eble, Remi Paine, and Vikram Dudee were celebrated at the beginning of the game as part of a Senior Night ceremony.
Senior winger Cory Day was not only thrilled to score the first goal of the game, but to play in front of his family on such a special night.
"Senior night was special," said Day. "My fellow seniors and I have had a couple of long years leading up to our senior season and this season has been beyond what anyone could’ve expected. It was also nice to have my family in town to celebrate, as well. Scoring that first goal was awesome, it got the crowd in the game early and got the boys going and we never looked back from that point on. I have to credit Spindlow for finding me wide open and getting the puck across the ice to me for the tap in."
Another huge part of the win over UT was the sophomore forward and newcomer Patrick Lehmann, finishing the night with a hat-trick. Patrick joined the team at the start of the second semester just like basketball players, similar to basketball players Tai Wynyard and Hamidou Diallo in the past. The 6-5, 270 lb forward has been a huge impact for coach Pergram through his first six games as a Wildcat.
"I love being apart of the Kentucky hockey program," said Lehmann. "We have a great team, great coach, and a great brotherhood that I was fortunate enough to be brought into. It felt awesome to score the Hattrick against Tennessee especially on Senior Night and to be able to do that in front of our awesome fans was amazing."
After the opening blowout, the Cats had to rest up all day Saturday to take on the No. 1-seed Georgia Bulldogs at midnight. Georgia has an incredible hockey program, winning the SEC Tournament two years in a row in 2016 and 2017.
The game was so big that former quarterback for the Wildcats Stephen Johnson was at the Lexington Ice Center to catch the Cats in the massive matchup, and even took part in dropping the first puck to start the game.
Johnson has grown to be a huge supporter of the program and loves the crazy midnight atmosphere.
"I think the program is definitely on a come up," Johnson said. "The leadership within the team and by the coach is unmatched. The games being at midnight is really cool, you don’t get to see that at most places. I want to thank the team for letting me drop the puck before the game. That was a really cool experience. I’m just glad I didn’t fall on the ice when I walked out there."
As far as the game goes, the back-and-forth contest was invigorating. UGA was up at the end of the first period 1-2, but UK answered in the second to knot it up at three going into the second intermission. Cats went up early in the third period with a power-play goal by the defender Ryan Duffy to put UK up 4-3 with 16:05 left in the game. Georgia then tied it up with 11 minutes to play at four, but the Cats wouldn't go away easily.
Not even a minute later, freshmen forward Jordan Shannon scored a goal assisted by the senior forward Beck Schultz to make it 5-4. With a minute left, Georgia pulled their goalie and the Cats put the icing on the cake with 39.4 seconds left with an open net goal from Schultz. Cats hung on to win 6-4.
The Senior Schultz was ecstatic to go out with a bang winning such a huge game on home ice to end the season and to end his career at home wearing the blue and white.
"The last game on our home ice against Georgia was definitely bittersweet," Shultz stated. "At the beginning of the game I didn't necessarily want to think about it too much because I didn't want it to affect the way I play. But as the periods went by and as the clock ticked down the end was inevitable. For as long as I played at UK, the seniors have never been able to win the last home game until this year. That was a huge accomplishment and definitely a memorable moment that my fellow seniors and I will share forever. Stepping off that ice I couldn't help but to break down in tears and reminisce on all the memories and accomplishments that this organization has made during my career."
After the win, Schultz also knew that this was a huge step for the program in regards to competing with the best of the best in the SEC.
"Going up against the number one seed in the SEC, we knew we were going to have to put in work," Schultz said. "Playing against Georgia gave us a little preview of what the SEC Tournament is going to look like next weekend. At the end of the game, my coach and I made eye contact and knew that we had a TEAM who would be able to compete in the SEC."
The SEC Tournament which will be held down in Nashville next weekend at the Ford Ice Center, which is also the Nashville Predators practice facility. Kentucky, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, will play the No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks at 2 pm CST on Friday. If the Cats pull it out over the Gamecocks, they will then take on the winner of No. 2 Arkansas and No. 7 Vanderbilt on Saturday at 5 pm.
If the Cats can march on to the SEC Championship game and win at 2:30 pm on Sunday, it'll be their first SEC Hockey Championship in SCHOOL HISTORY.
Freshman defenseman Ryan Duffy is excited to play in the schools first-ever SEC Tournament and at the possibility of maybe bringing some hardware back to Lexington.
"I’m very excited," Duffy said. "It’s a huge step for the program and coming in after the win against Georgia gives us a lot of confidence. Hopefully we end the year on a high note and bring back a championship."
Coach Pergram believes the boys are ready to play, but that they need to take it one game at a time.
"This weekend the boys played great against UGA," said Pergram. "We finally played three solid periods of hockey. UGA is back-to-back SEC champs and has a great program with talented players. This weekend we will play one game at a time."
To follow the Cats for coverage of the whole SEC Tournament, you can follow me and the official page of the official Kentucky Hockey twitter account, which is listed below. There will also be a live stream of the game that will be posted on the UKHockey.com website.
All you have to do is click on Media, and then Gameday Broadcast to view the live stream.
Last but not least, GO CATS and let's bring home the CHAMPIONSHIP!