LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's been almost 20 years since Louisville's River Frogs played in front of fans of pro hockey.
But another team has dreams of playing in front of thousands of fans, and that's the most important goal for the UofL Cardinals hockey team at Iceland Arena.
Players who put on the UofL uniform pay for what they wear. There are no scholarships for club-level hockey in college. Each player has to come up with $3,000 to play, on top of paying for their education. No one can question their success. They have won their conference two of the last three years in what's called the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
On a recent February night, about 500 fans packed Iceland to watch the Cards beat Ohio State. No, they aren't Division 1-type players, but their coach says you'd be surprised at the talent level of most of the team.
"There's only 60 Division 1 college hockey programs, so a lot of good hockey players come to play here," coach Brian Graham said. The only other NCAA hockey is Division 3, and Graham says a lot of those schools can cost upwards of $60,000. Thus coming to U of L, even from out of state, can cut that cost in half, or much more with some academic scholarships.
Graham recruits all over the country, and the payoff shows. Players on this year's roster come from as far away as Banff, Alberta, and Cumberland, Rhode Island. But Louisville's old pro team is still having an impact, too. Goalie Trevor Beck, from Male High School, told WAVE 3 News about the connection.
"Five years old, I saw the River Frogs here, saw some games, sat behind the net," said Beck, who's played ever since in front of the net -- stopping shots, but never stopping the dream for his school's hockey program.
Beck said UofL's goal is to reach the Division 1 level, with funding from the athletic program and scholarships.
"We all want to be the pioneers and lead it towards that, we're working on it, that is for sure, game by game we are trying," he said.
Often the Cards turn fans away for games against the University of Kentucky and Indiana. They would love to end up in an arena that holds 4,000 or more.
"I think this town could support it, rally around it," Graham said. "I don't think it's a farfetched dream. Other schools have done it."
Graham pointed to Arizona State making the leap to Division 1, and Miami of Ohio, too. The Cards hope they can keep scoring goals and reach their ultimate goal of Division 1 in five to 10 years.