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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC club ice hockey defeats Kentucky, 4-2, at Orange County Sportsplex

UNC sophomore defenseman Ben Edwards (4) defends the goal at UNC club hockey's season opener at Orange County Sportsplex on Sept. 23, 2023.

The UNC club ice hockey team (3-0) defeated the Kentucky Wildcats (1-2), 4-2, in its home opener at the Orange County Sportsplex in Hillsborough on Saturday.

Last season, the Wildcats ruined the Tar Heels championship run during the Southwest Regionals. With the score being 3-2 in their last meeting, North Carolina was just one goal away from entering the championship match for the 2023 American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II National Championship. The Tar Heels knew it was their time for revenge during the home opener. 

“We were kind of riding on a high last year and they got us good,” senior forward Henry Foster said. “They were a good team last year and we are a good team this year and we knew it was going to be a dogfight."

During the first period, both the Tar Heels and the Wildcats struggled to find the back of the net. After UNC dominated the first few minutes of the period, Kentucky worked to maintain possession. With the Tar Heels unable to keep the puck for long, the pressure fell solely to senior goalkeeper Joel Hughes.

As scoring opportunities dwindled, the intensity between the Tar Heels and the Wildcats heated up. After a tiff between senior forward Leighton Walsh and Kentucky’s Mark L’Heureux and another argument at the goal, both teams wanted nothing more than to draw first blood.

With increased physicality from both UNC and Kentucky, the contest between the two teams became a test of control.

“(We were) just trying to keep our cool and keep our heads,” Foster said. “We weren’t going to back down to them. We were going to try to stand up for ourselves.”

With less than seven minutes in the period, first-year defenseman Cam Glonek was penalized for tripping. Although Kentucky secured the power play opportunity, Hughes stopped the Wildcats with two back-to-back saves while UNC played a man down. 

Using the momentum, Foster capitalized off of a ricocheted shot off the goal to score while Kentucky’s goalkeeper was away from the net with less than a second on the clock. UNC left the first period up 1-0. 

In the second period, the Wildcats completely lost control. Junior forward Tommy Gilligan netted a second Tar Heels goal early in the period. While Kentucky quickly responded to make the score 2-1, a series of penalties rattled any form of strategy from the Wildcats. 

Before reaching the 10-minute mark, Kentucky received four different penalties back-to-back. The Tar Heels capitalized off the opportunity. Both senior forward David Mahan and sophomore forward Patrick O’Shaughnessy scored to extend the lead to 4-1.

“That was like a weird one,” O’Shaughnessy said. “There were a lot of penalties this game so it was [four on three]. You are not in that situation a lot.” 

As the Wildcats players returned to the ice, North Carolina’s scoring frenzy ended. With the pace change, the Wildcats held the lead to 2 before retiring for the second intermission. 

In the third period, the Kentucky players fired up their intensity with the fear of losing on their minds. While Kentucky remained on offense for most of the period, UNC was able to maintain its lead with the help of Hughes. After ending last season with a loss against Kentucky, the Tar Heels found their revenge in this matchup.

“Today is a great way to start the season and will hopefully foreshadow the season to come,” Hughes said.

The UNC Hockey team will return to the ice against East Carolina University in Greenville on Friday at 8 p.m.


@dthsports |

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