Hundreds of fans poured into the Sun Prairie Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 3., and then hundreds more. Families came with their kids in knit hats. Men came wearing jerseys proudly. Couples came, sharing bags of freshly popped popcorn to share. Women came, one holding what looked to be a handmade beehive.
“The fans. The people. The Sun Prairie community. There is no way this could have happened without them,” said Michael Lukken, co-owner and president of the new team. “The Sun Prairie Ice Arena has been great. The Chamber of Commerce has been great. The community has been great.” Lukken stopped for a moment, collecting himself, nearly choking up. “We couldn’t have done this without them. That’s the truth.”
A few months ago the team didn’t exist, it only started in earnest in November of last year as they applied to be a part of the Union Hockey League.
The league sports 12 teams in two divisions: Eastern and Western. Sun Prairie is in the Western Division along with the Motor City Generals, Pittsburgh River Monsters, Soo Nordiques, Toledo Mobsters, and West Michigan Generals.
There are 20 games in the season (10 at home and 10 on the road) through April with the playoffs taking place in Las Vegas in early May.
The hundreds of fans at the first home game cheered the team on against the Pittsburgh River Monsters. They applauded the goals, booed at the bad calls, and supported the players with every cross-check, breakaway, and face-off.
“Sun Prairie is hockey-centric,” said Lukken, “and we want to make sure our players are Wisconsin.”
Their roster includes young men like Felipe Vargas, Lucien Pereault, Preston Uttech, Gio Meuller, Trevor Macey, and many others with varying hockey backgrounds, whether it be playing semi-pro, or playing youth hockey, junior hockey, on in college.
“This is Wisconsin’s team,” Lukken said.
For Lukken, himself, it was UW-Madison men’s hockey that initially drew him to the sport. “It’s a cradle-to-grave thing,” he said of his passion for hockey. “I love it.”
He grew up in Wausau and moved to Colorado Springs about the time the Avalanche of the NHL came to Denver. He’s been obsessed ever since.
For eight years he worked for USA Hockey in various capacities before becoming owner of Pelican Sports Group in 2020. It’s a full-service sports agency with services that include family advising, contract negotiations, and athlete marketing.
When the opportunity opened up to start a team in Sun Prairie, Lukken jumped at the chance. “This area didn’t have a team, like Madison, and hockey has always been part of the culture here.”
Now, just months since it was but a dream, the Sun Prairie Ice Arena is abuzz with Killer Bee enthusiasm. At the inaugural game, T-shirts were being sold briskly by the lobby encased in trophies; hot dogs were being consumed by those watching the Zamboni clean the ice; and children were banging on the glass in hopes of getting the attention of the goalie.
The Killer Bees won the home opener 9-7.
Lukken said, “It was nice to spend one of the best nights of my life with 600-plus of my newest friends.”
Single-game tickets are $12. Season tickets are $140.