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.