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Gathered in a dim blue locker room Monday at Louisville’s Iceland Sports Complex are 13 players dressed and ready to play. But before the teams take the ice, something catches coach Rick Macht’s attention.
There's some anxiety in the room, as the Oldham County High School ice hockey club team is having its ups and downs this season.
Suddenly, Macht and the players are all looking at sophomore forward Jack Gifford.
“What happened to your sock?” Macht asks.
The sock on Gifford’s left leg matches his teammates’ socks—white with a blue stripe. His right sock is white with a purple stripe.
“Epic fail,” says a teammate.
This is the sixth season for OCHS in the eight-team Kentucky High School Hockey League. Like other club sport teams, there is no affiliation with the high school.
On Monday, the Colonels came back from a second period deficit, but fell to Eastern High School 6-5. Oldham County is now 3-4-1, with seven games remaining.
The players trudge through the hallway, skates on rubber mats out to the ice. A zamboni machine ‘smoothed’ the ice a minute earlier, but the ice surface is still as rough as concrete. The ice skates sound like skateboards at a skate park.
Right wing Jason Watts, a freshman at South Oldham High School, moves with grace on the ice despite the roughness. His cuts are precise, allowing him to handle the puck with ease.
Watts is known as “Baby Byfuglien,” to his teammates, after National Hockey League star Dustin Byfuglien, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
He’s also earned the nickname because like Byfuglien, Watts is the hardest hitter on the ice. Watts doesn’t hit players he considers new to the sport or novice players.
But when provoked, Watts doesn’t hold back.
“If someone hits a teammate cheaply, you don’t go out of your way to hit ‘em, but if you get a chance, you do it,” Watts says. “I basically hit anyone who has a big affect on the ice.”
Watts has help from defenseman Ryan Macht, a sophomore at SOHS and Rick’s son. Watts and Macht are sometimes on the ice together, but often, Watts leaps over the wall in front of the OCHS bench like jumping into The Dukes of Hazard’s General Lee with Macht taking his place.
Macht is a proficient skater, weaving between players, with the puck in his possession. He’s slowed by the roughness of the ice, but if he’s within 20 to 25 feet, Macht also has a quick slapshot that results in direct shots on the goal nearly every time.
The Colonels have female help too. Right wing Brittany Bischoff, a senior at Assumption High school is on the same line as Macht.
Bischoff leisure skated before joining the Colonels three years ago. She participated in the league’s open skate, for players whose school doesn’t have a team. The teams bid on players and OCHS bid on Bischoff.
Bischoff isn’t as swift a skater as her teammates, but she finds open creases between players for passes. She’s also gained the confidence to play with boys that she lacked when she joined the team.
“It took me a while to catch up to their pace, but I’m getting there,” Bischoff said. “(Hockey) is more of a hobby of mine to stay in shape, but I love it.”
On Monday, OCHS found itself in an early hole as Eastern scored six minutes into the first period on a power play. The Colonels earned a slashing penalty.
OCHS and Eastern combined for 20 penalties, six of which went against the Colonels.
After the Eagles’ goal, Watts sent an Eastern player crashing hard into the boards with a hit from behind near the OCHS net.
Eastern retaliated moments later with a roughing call that earned OCHS a power play that resulted in a goal from the left side by Macht.
The teams tied the score at two after two periods, before four unanswered goals by Eastern broke the game open. The Colonels added two late goals, including a shorthanded goal by Watts, but couldn’t catch up in the loss.
Their heads down, the OCHS players walked back through the rubber-matted hallway to the locker room.
The Colonels’ goaltender, Joe Zeiser, a sophomore at Christian Academy of Louisville, curses as he slams his stick against the wall before going into the locker room.
The players pull their sweaty jerseys off, with a cloud of odor wafting throughout the locker room. Macht, who’s normally an assistant, is filling in as head coach while Tim Scott is out of town.
Macht offers a few words of encouragement.
“We played decent,” he tells the players. “In the third period, we pulled it together and got close. But you guys played with heart and gave it everything you had until the end of the game.”
OCHS takes the ice again Jan. 6 at Iceland Sports Complex against Trinity High School.
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