With each passing year, youth hockey in the Owensboro area continues to thrive.
That much is evident just by visiting the Edge Ice Center, where nearly 250 players compete within the Owensboro Youth Hockey Association. Teams begin play at the 8U level and extend all the way to the Owensboro Rampage high school squad.
Though the size of the cities may differ, Owensboro is as vibrant a hockey town as some of the larger metropolitan areas in the state.
"The bigger urban areas -- Lexington, Louisville, northern Kentucky -- they all have leagues, and we're very comparable to them," said Bruce Lindsey, team manager for the Rampage. "Owensboro hockey started in 1971, so it's existed since then. When the rink was built, it really took off from there."
The Edge Ice Center, which replaced the Owensboro Ice Arena in 2009, remains the only hockey rink in western Kentucky, and it's one of just four in the entire commonwealth.
It's also the only municipally-owned hockey rink in the state, which allows some pricing flexibility -- another key component in boosting local hockey interest.
"Since it's owned by the city, we get a much cheaper rate than a lot of these other programs," Lindsey said. "In Owensboro, we don't have a wealthy population, so since the city owns the rink, we can run a hockey program where the average person can come play."
The other main key in attracting new players? Word of mouth.
Lindsey's son, Jackson, is a rising junior at Apollo High School. He started playing hockey in the sixth grade after hearing about it from a youth football teammate, Elijah Howard. The two still play hockey together to this day.
"We brought him out, and he instantly fell in love with it," Lindsey recalled. "We get a lot of our kids that way. They'll have a family member or a church member come out to a game, they'll invite the kids, and then the kids end up wanting to play. It's a snowball effect."
For Layton Pulliam, a rising senior at Owensboro High School and an assistant captain on the Rampage, it was his uncle and cousins that inspired him to play.
For the last 10 years, Pulliam has been a regular at the ice center, and he's seen the interest grow over the years.
Now, he's hoping that translates into capturing a state championship with the Rampage, who have won two state titles since 2012.
"We want to win it all," he said. "I haven't won it before, so that'd be great."
Pulliam's teammates come from all over. All four high schools in Owensboro are represented, and there are often a few players who make the trek from Bowling Green, as well.
With the number of players expected to try out over the next few weeks, Lindsey said, the hope is for the Rampage to fill a full varsity and junior varsity squad for the first time. Then, once the regular season starts in September, it's full go until February.
The Rampage compete in the Kentucky High School Hockey League, which includes metro squads like Evansville, Lexington and Louisville, and even scholastic teams like St. Xavier and Louisville Trinity. Once a year, they get the chance to play in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena prior to an NHL Predators game.
According to Lindsey, the atmosphere during games at the Edge Ice Center is worth checking out.
"It's awesome," he said. "We're the only high school team in Kentucky that has cheerleaders. Games are free. Traditionally, our biggest rival in Trinity, so when we play them, people pack our side. They bring people to pack their side. We tailgate out here. It's a really cool atmosphere."
Though Kentucky is, admittedly, a basketball state, Lindsey said, there's still plenty of room for other sports to flourish.
Count hockey as one of them.