Sunday, April 13, 2014

Meow! Nebraska's Spring Game Turns Into a Big Football Party

I admit that I've got a soft spot in my heart for the old-style spring games when the top units face off against each other. My favorite had to be the 1995 game when Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer tried to top each other. But television coverage has changed college football not just in the spring but year round.  Coaches now are too timid to show much of anything in a spring game. They've gradually been dialed down over the years. Bill Callahan even turned it into a farce, matching up the starters against the scout team to mask the clusterfool.

A lot of people stopped going to spring games for that reason. I know I skipped a few during the Callahan years for that very reason. Cleaning the garage? A better use of my time.  But even if there wasn't much to learn from a football perspective, there's always been one very good reason to go to the spring game.


Growing up, I remember my parents taking the family to the spring game. And now with children of my own, the spring game is a family staple of ours. It's a fun way to introduce kids to Husker football. Tickets are relatively inexpensive. The kids get to run around on the field at halftime, and the game is low pressure. There are no tense moments when you don't want to answer your children's questions because you are afraid to miss a play.

But the 2014 edition of the Nebraska spring game gave the non-parents a reason to come to Lincoln.  Fun.  And it started with Bo Pelini leading the tunnel walk with a cat.
@FauxPelini had no choice but to waive the white flag of surrender at that point.

Pelini detractors may not like the four losses a season. They may not like the emotion that sometimes runs overboard. But it's time to permanently retire the misperception that Bo Pelini is an angry, humorless sociopath. Pelini has kept that side of his personality under wraps for far too long. We've only seen little snippets of it here and there, but over the last year, we're finally getting to see it publicly.

And Saturday, we saw the fun side of Pelini. He challenged Kenny Bell to a passing contest to see who could hit the goal posts from 40 yards away.  Bell hit the posts on two out of three throws, while Pelini channeled his inner Mickey Joseph, coming up short on all three tosses.  Former players were invited to punt, pass, and kick.  Except graduating tackle Jeremiah Sirles turned it into an opportunity to propose to his girlfriend.
There was no way to top last year's Jack Hoffman touchdown run. So Pelini didn't.  He just made today a lot of fun for everybody.  It was a football party.

Oh, there was a little football in there. It's too easy to overreact to a spring game. (Remember Brion Carnes in 2011?) So let's temper everything we saw. Tommy Armstrong didn't have a great game, but he won't be in any danger of losing his spot as the starter based on today.  What we did see was Ryker Fyfe step up and lead the #1 offense on an impressive touchdown drive against the Blackshirts with a poised performance. Johnny Stanton looked OK as well in his first public performance in a Nebraska uniform.

We all know what Ameer Abdullah can do, so he spent almost the entire day on the sideline. Imani Cross looked really sharp, rushing six times for 100 yards. He showed great vision reversing his field on a simple counter play for a 39 yard touchdown. Adam Taylor looked OK, but I was impressed with Terrell Newby's improvement. He looks like he's bulked up a bit, but more importantly, he's really worked on ball security. 16 carries and nary even a bobble.  Brandon Reilly had the play of the day with a nifty catch that only got better when he was finally brought down after a 51 yard gain.

On defense, I liked what I saw from Byerson Cockrell in the secondary with four tackles and a pass breakup. It wasn't a great performance from the defense, but it wasn't bad either. Nathan Gerry did get off to a fast start. I suspect that Pelini had hoped to see a little more from the linebackers.

But considering the past history of spring game results, it doesn't really matter. The biggest takeaway from the 2014 Spring Game was that players and fans had a blast.
And that's not a bad thing at all.

Friday, April 11, 2014

NCAA Frozen Four: North Dakota Loses to Minnesota In Final Second

If you were watching ESPN2 last night, you might have caught the incredible ending to the second Frozen Four semifinal game between North Dakota and Minnesota. Two hated hockey rivals who now play in separate conferences thanks to conference realignment.

North Dakota is on a power-play, and then this happened.
That's right.  Minnesota's Justin Holl scores a short-handed goal with just 0.6 seconds to defeat North Dakota 2-1.

Last second losses are nothing new for North Dakota, though. UNO did it in November 2010 when Alex Hudson scored just before the clock hit 0:00.0 to give the Mavs a 1-0 victory.

Note that the referee signals goal just a fraction of a second before the green light lights up to signal the clock has run out.


No wonder North Dakota fans drink heavily.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shouldn't Creighton Fans Have More Questions About the Baylor Blowout?

I don't follow Creighton basketball closely at all. I'm not a fan of the program, and I'm definitely not a fan of some of the come-lately fans on the Bluejay bandwagon. I haven't watched any Creighton games since the Nebraska game last December until turning on Sunday's NCAA tournament third round game against Baylor at halftime.

I thought about tweeting some snarky comments such as "#wraggeBricks" as the Bears began to pull away from the Bluejays, but held back. Guess I didn't see the point of trolling Creighton fans.

That didn't stop some Creighton fans from accusing Sam McKewon from the Omaha World-Herald of trolling them on Twitter after the game.

More specifically, he compared Creighton's loss to the 2012 Big Ten football championship game when #wisconsinScoresAgain.
Some thought that McKewon was suggesting that Creighton coach Greg McDermott should be fired, but that's not what McKewon was saying. Asking questions about why and how a team could flop on such a  massive scale isn't the same as putting a coach on the hot seat. That being said, some Husker fans escalated criticism to a call to fire Pelini - so I see where the connection was made.

Still, why aren't Creighton fans more upset? Frankly, it seems that they were expecting this to happen sooner rather than later, let alone never.
I heard similar reactions on the radio Monday morning. For having a two time all-American basketball player, not getting to the Sweet 16 at least once during his career would seem to be a major shortcoming. Their best shot might have been two years ago. And they might have had a chance if they hadn't chosen to goon things up that afternoon.

Or maybe McKewon wasn't so much questioning Creighton fans as much as questioning Husker fans reactions to the 2012 Big Ten Championship game. Yes, it was a brutal beatdown, but it's not like Husker fans weren't aware of Nebraska's defensive weaknesses. And fans who pay any attention to the program should have recognized that Pelini already had answers to those weaknesses in the pipeline. Even a guy like me that tries to ignore recruiting hype knew that Pelini had been actively recruiting to fill the holes that Wisconsin exploited.

Maybe Husker fan could learn a little bit from Creighton fan this week.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Requiem for UNO's Hockey Season

After UNO's 4-3 victory over Denver on Thursday night, I thought the Mavericks stood an excellent chance to finally break through and make it to the final weekend of their conference tournament.

But by Saturday night, the season was over. Denver won 5-1 on Friday night and 2-0 on Saturday night to finish off the Mavs season before the conference tournament's final weekend. Again.

UNO failed to qualify for the NCHC's Frozen Faceoff.  UNO never qualified for the WCHA's Final Five.  In fact, UNO hasn't been to the final weekend since the 2004-05 season in the CCHA.  Seriously.

And that raises the question that every UNO hockey fan should be asking themselves:

Why the hell has UNO not been able to make it to Detroit or Minneapolis for the nine straight seasons?

Don't rewrite that question as anything even approaching "Fire Dean Blais"; that's a quick kneejerk response from wanna-be-George Steinbrenner's whenever a team underperforms. It's a more general question: what's holding UNO back?

UNO made it to Joe Louis Arena in the program's third season, and first in the CCHA. After the St. Patrick's Day Massacre of Michigan, the Mavs played for the CCHA title. They haven't been close ever since.

UNO has a coach with a national championship pedigree in Dean Blais. Why hasn't he been able to make it out of the first round of the playoffs?

Some people (all outside of Omaha, mind you) wonder if the game has passed Blais by. If that was the case, Blais wouldn't be continuously raiding Minnesota's best talent. He did it again last week. Heck, Blais' story is strong enough that it's caught the attention of Minneapolis TV.

So I'm going to set that idea aside for now.  And frankly, I'm not sure there is a big picture solution that's staring me in the face. UNO's 2013-14 season ended primarily because they hit a red-hot goaltender in Sam Brittain. Brittain ranks second nationally in save percentage (.934). And when it comes playoff time, teams really need solid goaltending. And up to now, I don't think Blais has been able to find that goalie just yet. I wonder if he thought that Anthony Stolarz was going to be that goalie, only to have him bail after just one semester.

This season wasn't helped by the ugly Old Market incident that resulted in senior captain Matt White being dismissed from the team. That certainly gave the media enough pause to predict UNO to finish dead last in the NCHC this season. And despite that, UNO did finish a very respectable third place in the regular season.

But again, one weekend later, the season is over, and UNO fans need to at least ask what's wrong with the program. It could very well be that Blais has UNO on the right track. While UNO will lose six seniors including Ryan Walters, who'll get some Hobey Baker award attention, there's a core group that'll be a good focal point for next season. I do suspect that junior Josh Archibald, who broke UNO's season scoring record this year, will turn pro.  But I like the freshmen, and the depth of the incoming class is impressive. I'm also reminded about how early recruiting begins now, with players being targeted in eighth and ninth grade. In that light, it may be that Blais' recruiting efforts may just now be beginning to bear fruit.  (As the Minneapolis media have noted.)

There's one more item that I wonder about. UNO has long been hampered by the lack of a practice facility near campus, and that's one of the things that's included in the new UNO arena project. It's a project I've been long critical of as a huge mistake for UNO.  I believe that it's too small, and too expensive for what it brings UNO. My mind on that has not changed one bit.

That being said, UNO needs that practice facility, and maybe that is, in fact, the compelling reason to build this thing. Nevermind that it's smaller than the average UNO hockey crowd. Nevermind that I still don't understand how UNO makes an arena work when the Mid America Center in Council Bluffs and the new Ralston Arena apparently struggle financially.

Maybe the arena doesn't make financial sense at all. Maybe it simply makes hockey sense.  Is UNO hockey's real problem that there is no on-campus facility that allows players to practice at more convenient times and not have to drive all over town to get there?

I don't have the answers. I'm just raising the questions. Because frankly, these premature endings of seasons have gotten old.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Doyel Spotlights the Other Side of Bo Pelini

On the football field, Bo Pelini can act like a lunatic at times. We've all seen it; in fact, thanks to instant replay and games televised with a dozen or cameras, we see it over and over again. Even though he's improved his demeanor a bit, every so often his fury is unleashed again.

I call it Pelini's passion gone way overboard. I think he recognizes he goes too far at times.  It's a reputation he's earned. What isn't earned is the perception that the way he acts on the sideline is the way he acts off the field. People wonder why anybody would want to play for a coach who acts like that.

I don't know Bo Pelini. I haven't met the guy outside the football field, so I don't have any first-hand knowledge of how he acts away from the field.  I do know one thing, and that is that by and large, his players love Bo Pelini. Almost without exception, every player past and present has glowing things to say about their relationship with Pelini. (I'm sure there are a few exceptions, nobody can please everybody.) But for the most part, Pelini is highly regarded by the people he has dealt with over the years.

Gregg Doyel's column on Pelini gave people another example of that "other" Pelini that many people either aren't aware of, or just ignore. It's an outstanding look at the two sides to the Nebraska football coach.  I thought it was a great article when I first read it, then I went through and started clicking on the links. And suddenly came across this line:
And here come the stories this spring, just as they were written last spring, and Pelini doesn't know what to make of it all.
And the OMG moment as I suddenly found myself re-reading my own article from last spring about people's misperceptions of Bo Pelini. (Is it cool when you see your work referenced like this? Absolutely!)

Does this really change the perception of Bo Pelini? It does a little, but the truth is, what matters more are getting Nebraska to fewer than four losses in a season. Quite a few coaches blow a gasket on the sideline, but everybody, barring some sort of physical assault, forgives it as long as the coach wins.  Bo Pelini's record is good, but at a place like Nebraska, nine or ten wins each and every season just isn't quite good enough. At 100 schools, Pelini's record would be good enough. But not at Nebraska.  I get that.

I also know that Pelini has put together great defenses, and had teams that ave had great offenses.  I'm not ready to pull the plug on Pelini; I still think that's premature. Some coaches simply need time. Certainly Pete Carroll wasn't a successful coach right off the bat. Neither was Nick Saban.  So I'm willing to be patient with a coach like Pelini. We all know that Nebraska can do far worse than Pelini.

One thing that I find very curious is how much more vilified Pelini is for actions far less egregious than other coaches.  Take Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery, who regularly blows his stack on the sideline, and typically gets a free pass on it.
In fact, after McCaffery bumped a ref earlier this season and had to be physcially restrained, Iowa fans insisted that Pelini's hat swipe was somehow worse.

The thing is...both are bad.  (This year's #frantrum was worse, mind you.)  I don't know about McCaffery, but I do know this about Pelini, he's getting better at his sideline demeanor (Iowa game aside), and I believe he's sincere in wanting it to be better.  And I think he's getting better as a coach.

And if articles like this help calm some of the misperceptions about Pelini's temper, it's a good thing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

UNO Hockey Once Again An Afterthought In the Local Media This Weekend

UNO split their final series with Minnesota-Duluth this weekend, earning them a home best-of-three series with Denver starting this Thursday night. The die-hard UNO fans know it and can hardly wait for UNO's first home playoff series since 2011. (The fact that it's not against Bemidji and their kryponite neutral zone trap is a bonus.)

The rest of the local sports fans? Well, they really had to pay attention to know about it. Granted, there were some really, really big things that happened locally in sports. Creighton's Doug McDermott tops 3,000 career points in his final basketball game in Omaha. Nebrasketball finishes their incredible February surge with a huge upset of #9 Wisconsin, almost assuring them an NCAA tournament berth.  And the Husker women won the Big Ten women's basketball tournament.

So I knew that UNO wouldn't get front page treatment in this morning's Omaha World-Herald.  The first two pages were devoted to Creighton and Dougie.  Fair enough; he earned it. But UNO was notably missing from page 3, which was the quasi-front page of the Sports section.  Well, the Husker men and women deserved prime treatment.  But there also was a blurb about a Millard West football player committing to Harvard, and a preview of the Nebraska Girls State High School basketball tournament coverage.  Hmmm.

Page 4? Well, lots of sports briefs along with coverage of the Big Ten and Big Eight wrestling tournament.  Still no UNO hockey, though UNO softball gets a mention for getting a split at Colorado State's tournament.  But we get the World Herald's wacky sports comedy column, a rehash of a week of Mike'l Severe's new online call-in show, and the World-Herald's big reach around as they congratulate themselves for winning a few awards.

Page 5, certainly.  Nope, that's the start of a four page special pull-out section on the girls state basketball tournament.  And to make it a pullout, it covers the next three pages as well.

So you guessed it... UNO hockey finally shows up on Page NINE of the daily fishwrap.

Nine. I'm not going to argue that UNO deserved coverage ahead of the basketball games...even the Husker women.  It was a Big Ten championship for the Husker ladies, even though UNO hockey draws more fans.  But shouldn't UNO hockey have been mentioned along side that?

I go back to the Minneapolis comparison. If anything, they've got even more on their plate than the World-Herald with the NBA and NHL along side college sports and the Minnesota Twins in spring training.  There's a way to cover everything and give every sport their due.

It wasn't just the World-Herald dropping the ball.  On Saturday night, KETV Channel 7 did offer highlights of UNO's game in Duluth.  We saw UNO's first goal, and then Duluth scoring the tying goal in the first period.  And then the final score:  UNO 4, Minnesota-Duluth 1.  Ten frigging seconds of highlights.

I guess they tried. Just not very well.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Why Did UNO Hockey Get More Coverage on Minneapolis TV Instead of Omaha This Week?

One of the more frustrating things for UNO hockey fans to deal with is the dearth of coverage in the local media. I certainly understand where it starts; Nebraska football is clearly the topic that drives the conversation in sports locally. This winter, add in Creighton basketball's dream season and Nebrasketball's meteoric rise into contention for an NCAA tournament bid (despite being picked to finish dead last in the Big Ten), and you have to expect those stories to get plenty of coverage. And deservedly so.

This isn't so much about this season; it's always been a problem, even in those seasons when Creighton and Nebraska were NIT-quality teams at best. UNO hockey is frequently seen as an afterthought by many in the local media; a niche sport barely worth mentioning. Of course, that "niche" sport frequently has been known to outdraw the more established sports at times, so that's not a valid excuse. But it's a perception, and perceptions become reality, whether valid or not.

So UNO hockey fans sometimes have to be happy to get the coverage they get.  UNO's sweep of Colorado College to move to just one game out of first place in the NCHC got page five treatment in Sunday's World-Herald this week. Fine. Nebraska's victory over Northwestern was front-page worthy. So was Creighton's collapse at Xavier.  Same song, different verse.

But this week, my acceptance of the status quo was shaken up with the following tweet:

WCCO-TV in Minneapolis sent a crew to Omaha to learn why four of Minnesota's top ten high school hockey players have committed to UNO.  It's a great feature on UNO hockey, focusing on the pedigree of Dean Blais' coaching staff and the fact that UNO ranks fourth nationally in college hockey attendance.

Only one of the 10 Mr. Hockey finalists is staying in state at St. Cloud State.
So why can’t Minnesota schools get them to stay?
“Dean Blais isn’t here in Minnesota. I think if Dean Blais was in any one of those institutions that might make them an instant player for some of those kids,” said Ken Pauly.
As I watch the interviews with Eden Prarie's Luc Snuggerud and Steve Spinner, the little voice in the back of my mind keeps reminding me that this story is on a MINNEAPOLIS TV STATION WEB SITE.  They sent a camera crew to Omaha.  They sat down for interviews with UNO coaches and players.
Over four minutes of coverage of UNO hockey.  On a friggin' Minneapolis television station.  Not an Omaha television station or the Omaha World-Herald.

How does this happen?  I suspect that if you checked  the four local television stations, their combined coverage of UNO hockey the last week wouldn't add up to four minutes, and almost all of that would have been highlights from the previous weekend.

I understand the focus on Nebrasketball and Creighton this week. It's a story that needs to be covered. But at the same time, Minneapolis television just made it crystal clear that the Omaha media is neglecting stories right underneath their own nose.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

UNO Sweeps Colorado College with 2-1 Overtime Victory

Senior defenseman Michael Young's goal just 55 seconds into overtime gave UNO a 2-1 victory over Colorado College. The weekend sweep of the Tigers moved the Mavs into sole possession of third place, and virtually assured UNO of home ice in the first round of the NCHC playoffs in two weeks.

Thanks to multiple accidents on Interstate 80 last evening, we were late arriving to the game, and missed Colorado College's goal just 35 seconds into the game.  UNO tied the game midway through the first period with a power play goal by Jake Guentzel, but from there, both goalies held firm.  UNO had multiple opportunities to win the game late in the third period, with Ryan Walters narrowly missing on a breakaway attempt with just under two minutes in regulation, then Dominic Zombo unable to take advantage of an out-of-position CC goalie Josh Thorimbert a few seconds later.

But UNO kept the pressure up in overtime to secure the six point weekend.  UNO now trails North Dakota and St. Cloud State by one game going into the final weekend of the season.  If UNO can sweep fourth-place Minnesota Duluth on the road this weekend, the Mavs have a chance to finish the season tied for first place if both North Dakota (at home against Western Michigan) and St. Cloud State (on the road at Colorado College) can only manage weekend splits.

To maintain home ice, UNO just needs one point - either by them or North Dakota.  It would take sweeps by both Duluth and Western Michigan (at North Dakota) to put the Mavs on the road for the first round of the playoffs. So is UNO rooting for the Sioux? Probably not, because if Western Michigan can somehow pull off a sweep, UNO could claim a regular season title.

The standings are pretty tight from positions one through six only being about three games apart, so UNO's opponent for the playoffs won't be known until after next Saturday night's games. The most likely opponents would be Denver, who hosts last place Miami, or Western Michigan.  That series would begin on Thursday, March 13th, thanks to MECA's Demi Lovato concert, which was somehow scheduled for Sunday night.  Games two and three would be Friday and Saturday night (if necessary).

The postgame celebration at the CenturyLink Center with fans:

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mavs Burn Colorado College 6-0

It only took 11 seconds for UNO to prove that Wednesday's dorm fire wasn't going to be a distraction. That was how long it took for freshman Austin Ortega to score the game winning goal. Ortega's goal was originally credited to senior Ryan Walters, but was changed after the game. Good deal, as Ortega was one of the Mavs who lost his dorm room and likely much of his stuff this week.

Two minutes later, Brock Montpetit scored a short-handed goal, followed quickly by freshman Jake Guentzel (another fire victim) to chase Colorado College goalie Josh Thorimbert to the bench. Four shots, three goals... And the rout was on.

Only drama from then on was Josh Archibald scoring his 27th and 28th goals of the season. The last broke Bill Thomas' school record of 27 set in 2005-06. It was strange that there wasn't a PA announcement of Archibald's accomplishment, but maybe that was intentional.

UNO was clearly motivated tonight. But will they have enough in the tank for the Saturday night game? It's been a long week, and Colorado College will be out to make amends for being embarrassed in the first game. A win could virtually lock up home ice in the playoffs, which is something the Mavs haven't been able to do the last couple of years.

It would really be nice to clear that up this weekend.

NU Foundation Raising Funds for UNO Dorm Fire Victims

The NU Foundation is now collecting funds to help the 42 victims of Wednesday's fire at the UNO dorms on the Aksarben Campus in the Scott Village. While thankfully nobody was injured, all have lost clothes, books, computers, and other personal possessions.  Some may simply be waterlogged and salvageable, but I suspect most everything will need to be replaced.

Eight freshman UNO hockey players are among the 42 residents of the building that burned.  While their first floor apartments were not destroyed, they've undoubtedly lost much. Since this fund will assist all of the fire victims, it should not present any NCAA violations.

Fire officials have determined that the blaze began with a carelessly discarded cigarette. So count a few more victims of someone else's smoking. Ironically, this fire probably is the unintended consequence of smoking bans. Thirty years ago, people would just smoke in their apartment, but now, smoking isn't permitted indoors anymore.  So people go outside, and since they already are snubbing their noses at the rules regarding smoking, they don't take the appropriate caution.  So now one smoker (and 41 other UNO students) are paying the price for a really nasty habit.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dorm Fire Affects Eight UNO Freshmen Hockey Players

Wednesday's dorm fire at the Scott Village on UNO's Aksarben Campus displaced 48 students from their campus home, including eight freshmen on the hockey team.
From freshman defenseman Ian Brady
From freshman winger Austin Ortega
It's been a rough week for UNO hockey.  The tipping point of last Saturday night's loss might have actually occurred at the end of the second period when senior Zahn Raubenheimer broke his foot while blocking a shot. He managed to stay on the ice and attempt to block another one with his remaining good food, but he'll be out six weeks, which makes him extremely unlikely to play again in a UNO jersey.  (If UNO can somehow get there, he might be able to play in the Frozen Four.  Freshman Jake Guentzel took a puck to the ear earlier this week, necessitating a few stitches in the ear. And now he and his roommates may have lost everything in their dorm room.

All of these events will certainly test the Mavs' mental focus with their final home regular season series this weekend against Colorado College. If they can hang onto third or fourth place, they'll host a playoff series from Thursday, March 13th through Saturday, March 15th.

Fortunately, none of the students were hurt.  But at best, many of their possessions are water damaged, and will need to be replaced. And that raises the question about what UNO can do to assist these players with their loss possessions under NCAA regulations. I'm still bothered by the three game suspensions that coach Dean Blais and junior defenseman Jaycob Megna had to serve over the handling of Megna's stolen watch. If I'm in UNO's compliance office, the call to the NCAA's office was made while the fire department was still at work to make sure that UNO was doing everything they could do and remain in compliance with NCAA regulations. (And as we know from the Sami Spenner case, sometimes those rules can be unfair.)

It's bad enough that these players lost their dorm; it would be even worse if somehow an NCAA rule got violated while trying to assist these players.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If the Loss of UNO Hockey Is Going to Hurt the CenturyLink Center, Shouldn't Omaha Have Tried Harder to Keep the Mavs Downtown?

Today's Omaha World-Herald brings us a tale of woe from MECA, who operates the CenturyLink Center, about the ramifications of the loss of UNO hockey after next season.

When UNO hockey leaves the CenturyLink, MECA will be able to save some money when it doesn't have to create ice and keep it cold through the winter, said Roger Dixon, MECA's president and CEO. The dates once reserved for hockey games could open up opportunities for other sports events and concerts.
Still, Dixon said, it likely won't be enough. Though he didn't provide specifics, the end of hockey — in addition to the Civic's closing — means MECA will probably end up cutting some staff positions and will have to find other savings.
The natural reaction from UNO fans is "waaaaa!"  And rightfully so.  I still believe that it was in EVERYBODY'S best interest: city of Omaha, MECA, and UNO, to have the Mavs continue to play hockey at the CenturyLink Center.

Some UNO fans refer to the new Chili Greens arena as the "promised land." I frankly don't see a "land flowing with milk and honey" for UNO; in fact, I worry they are instead headed to the desert.  The new arena, while adjacent to campus, is smaller than the average UNO hockey crowd. So with smaller crowds, UNO seems to be banking on getting their current fans to pay more to make this endeavor possible.  And that's unfortunate.

Unfortunate, because I do believe that the new arena is unnecessary for UNO hockey.  Grow the sport, grow the program.  But it also would have required MECA and the City of Omaha to be more flexible in dealing with UNO.

Today's article shows us that the loss of UNO hockey will have a negative impact on the operations of the CenturyLink Center.  The blame for that loss goes to MECA, for not finding a way to better utilize the facilities they have been entrusted with for the good of the community.  It happened with TD Ameritrade Ballpark, which now sits idle between the Fourth of July and next month, when college baseball season starts.  It's now happening to the CenturyLink Center.

Omaha didn't need the Trailer Park in BFE Sarpy County to keep the Royals in town.  And certainly Omaha doesn't need yet another arena. But we've got a second ballpark, and now Omaha is building yet another arena instead of better utilizing the arena we already have.

Mavs Fall 10 Minutes Shy of Sweep at Western Michigan

On Saturday night, UNO seemed to be cruising to a weekend sweep on the road against Western Michigan.  With under ten minutes left in the game, the Mavs led 3-1 and all seemed fine.
The kids were watching the Olympics, and I got distracted by NBC's daytime skating commentators, who were making a primetime appearance. 

Then boom, boom, boom... Before I even knew what had happened, Western had tied the game. And a couple of minutes later, the Broncos had the lead. Three goals in just over three minutes, and the game (and the weekend) had slipped away from UNO. (And suddenly, the worst thing I'd seen that evening wasn't Johnny Weir's bouffant.)

It wasn't all bad for UNO on the weekend.  The Mavs are still in third place, with a four point lead over fifth place Denver.  Denver or Minnesota Duluth need to win two more games than UNO over the next two weekends in order to bump UNO out of home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs.  But those lost points from Saturday night likely would have meant that UNO could clinch home ice this weekend.  In fact, UNO would have still had a reasonable chance to win or share the regular season conference title.

Instead, the Mavs find themselves two games behind North Dakota and St. Cloud State with four games left to play.  Maybe they weren't going to be able to make that up, especially with the former Sioux and the Huskies matching up this weekend in St. Cloud.  But they had a shot... (and not a Lloyd Christmas chance either...)

UNO's home hockey season wraps up this weekend against seventh place Colorado College, and the regular season ends next week on the road at sixth place Minnesota Duluth.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Backyard Ice Rink Project: Nebraska's Schizophrenic Weather Taking It's Toll

This winter's schizophrenic weather has made it difficult to keep the backyard rink in good shape... Or even use. 65 degrees is great for a lot of activities, but ice skating isn't one of those. The ice gets covered in puddles, and begins pulling away from the boards, allowing the water to leak out.

Leaves in the ice
Even worse are the winds, which blow leaves onto the ice and drop the temperatures to the other extreme. A snowier winter would have helped on both problems. Snow makes for a great insulation and filler material to help keep the water in the rink, and snow on the ground would also bury the leaves.

Now, we're in the final stretch of the rink. Last week' swarm weather nearly melted the shallower sections of the rink, and the  stronger sun has led to more problems with melting. I suspect that the ice has been undercut by melting ice, as now a few holes from melting leaves have proven difficult to repair. The water just drains out somewhere at the low end.

Filling it with some crushed ice seems to have stayed the problem for now, and this weeks trip back into the deep freeze should allow me to get the rink fully back into use.

Hey kids, no skating here. There's a puddle there!

One part of the rink was unusable this week due to the melting. It's in the spot where the sun hits it strongest, and it's also where I suspect the water is channeling to underneath the ice and over the liner to find an exit point.

Memo to file for next time; be sure to secure the liner to the rink boards. I didn't want to put staple holes in the liner, but the result was a liner that easily let water flow over the sides.

Too late to do much about it now. I figure the whole rink only has about 3 more weeks before spring finishes it off...

Friday, February 21, 2014

MECA Isn't Planning on UNO Hockey Playing a Sunday Night NCHC Playoff Game

Browsing through the CenturyLink Center schedule, an entry caught my eye.  Demi Lovato has a concert scheduled for Sunday, March 16th at 7 pm.  Lovato doesn't interest me; she's apparently a former Disney Channel star with her own music career. Not my taste.

What interested me was the date.  Sunday, March 16, 2014 should be reserved at the CenturyLink Center for something else, and sure enough, I confirmed the hockey schedule on the UNO web site.  The first round of the NCHC playoffs run from Friday, March 14th through the 16th, and the games are played on the home rink of the top four seeds.

UNO is currently in third place in the NCHC, and if the season had ended last weekend, would be hosting a playoff series that weekend.  There's still three weeks left to go in the season, so that's subject to change, but as it stands, UNO is potentially looking to host a best-of-three series that weekend.

Except that the operators of the CenturyLink Center have already booked a concert the night of the third game.  How does this happen?

Yes, I know UNO is building an $85 million arena to get away from MECA, but organizations shouldn't have to build their own arena to avoid this type of scheduling conflict.  After March 16th, UNO won't hold another hockey game until October. Certainly, there's plenty of time to schedule this concert after hockey season.

The big question is: what happens if UNO hosts a playoff series that weekend?  Does UNO schedule a Thursday through Saturday series?  Schedule a Friday, Saturday, and Monday series?  Or (gag), schedule a deciding game three in the snot-encrusted walls of the Civic Auditorium for one final hockey game?

There is a simple solution for UNO here: get home ice and sweep the opponent to make MECA's screwup a moot point.

But really... how does an organization like MECA make a mistake like this?  Seriously.

UPDATE:  UNO has announced that if the Mavs host a series, the series would be played Thursday through Saturday.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sayonara, Omaha Civic Auditorium. It's time to move on.

The City of Omaha has officially started the process of replacing the outdated Civic Auditorium with something that will matter more in a 21st century downtown Omaha.  That's not to say that the Civic didn't serve it's purpose in it's day; numerous concerts, a 1988 vice-presidential debate, and countless sporting events. But now, it's not really needed anymore. The CenturyLink Center, when combined with the white elephant arenas in Council Bluffs and Ralston, made the Civic redundant, obsolete, and unneeded.

That doesn't mean unloved.  UNO hockey fans remember that "Tuesday Night" play-in game in March 2000.  Rock fans remember the days when the Civic was big enough to draw many of the big name names to town.  Not all of them, though. The biggest names stayed away, preferring to head to Lincoln's Devaney Center or Kansas City's Kemper Arena. (Of course, that was before the days of the massive stage show, which also made the Devaney Center obsolete since the wood floor couldn't accommodate most concert stages.)

And that's one of the big reasons why Omaha built the CenturyLink Center. We've gotten the big name shows that always passed Omaha by, like Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett. And even U2, which was the most amazing concert I've ever experienced. The "Clink" has drawn concerts to Omaha that previously passed Omaha by.  While the Civic was big enough for some acts, the biggest names always passed Omaha by, and it was because of the Civic.

Could the Civic have been used more over the last few years? Probably, but the lure of suites and club seating at the CenturyLink Center (not to mention the better acoustics) made that venue more inviting for most acts. Creighton decided to build their own small arena on campus for women's basketball and volleyball. MECA found a minor league hockey team to play there, but got saddled with the Calgary Flames organization.  The Flames' operation floundered as many expected until they hired Ren Smith to run the franchise. Then they promptly pulled the plug in Omaha, and moved the team to the Quad Cities (where they failed), then to Abbotsford, British Columbia (where they continue to struggle).

Some UNO fans wish the Mavs would have moved back to the Civic, though I'm not one of them. While the sightlines were great for a building that was never intended to house hockey, attendance was bad towards the end at the Civic.  Since moving out of the Civic, UNO games now average more fans than can ever fit in the old barn, which didn't have the now-basic amenities like a video screen.  (Of course, that doesn't explain why UNO is now building an arena even smaller than the Civic, but that's another debate for another time.)

With UNO's new arena as well as the failed Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, and the seemingly failing Ralston Arena, the Civic Auditorium doesn't serve any purpose any longer. There are better maintained facilities available with better amenities in the area. There's certainly no reason to spend any money to keep the Civic functioning, and it needs it.

It served it's purpose back in the day.  That day is over.  It's time to find another use for 18th & Capitol.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

When Chatelain Tries To Analyze, Misperceptions Arise

Earlier this week, the UNO Red Army became the latest to take offense to Omaha World-Herald feature writer Dirk Chatelain.

Truth be told, Chatelain is an award winning sports writer. And rightly so; he's written some amazing feature articles about the people who play the games.  Take his features on the relationship between Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown, UNO track star Sami Spenner (hey, NCAA: Let Sami Run!), and small town high school football. Great stuff.

But, as great as he is at writing stories about the people, he's a little less successful at analyzing the games themselves. Every so often, Chatelain breaks out a spreadsheet and tries to pretend to be Nate Silver, the statistical wizard who correctly predicted that Barack Obama would be re-elected in 2012. Unfortunately, his results turn out more like Mitt Romney's campaign team, who were convinced they were winning until the polls closed in California.

Most news organizations recognize the strengths of their talent and have them focus on what they do best.  ESPN doesn't send Jeremy Schaap to cover the Super Bowl, nor do they send Lee Corso to cover Missouri linebacker Michael Sam.

I'm reminded of his analysis from last year about recruiting within a 500 mile radius of Lincoln. I remember reading the article and asking at the time what it meant.  Frankly, nobody could really say, other than "Bo Pelini isn't doing it right."  So we looked at it the situation a little closer at CornNation, and found that, if anything, the 500 mile radius was a liability to Nebraska, as opposed to a missed opportunity.

I was reminded of this story recently with some updated information from Jeff Mason, who was working with 247 Sports, regarding recruits within 500 miles of Lincoln.

Pretty eyepopping numbers, but let's take the numbers even more general.  The CornNation team graphed the hometowns of each 1-A football scholarship recruit from the last dozen years, and the map is really, really stark.

Draw a line from Denver to Sioux Falls and then Minneapolis, and note the lack of players historically from those areas.  That is the Achilles heel of Nebraska and the 500 mile radius...there just aren't many players there.  Some would respond by saying that Nebraska should simply look south and east, but then other programs jump into competition.  As you get further and further away from Lincoln, the Huskers are then entering the sphere of influence for schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

That, in a nutshell, tells the story about why Nebraska has to recruit differently. For unofficial visits, recruits have to pay their own way.  If they are within 500 miles, it can be a family trip via car.  When it gets longer, driving becomes less practical.  (And if you haven't noticed, airplane tickets are kind of expensive.)  So it shouldn't be a surprise that as more and more high school players commit after unofficial visits, Nebraska falls behind in the early stages of recruiting.

That's context that Chatelain glossed over in his story from last year.  It's not like this was an exception either; remember the whole "bench Taylor Martinez because Nebraska didn't have a backup quarterback in 2011" muddled mess?

So when I saw the Red Army take offense when Dirk forgot about UNO hockey in the discussion of local programs getting to the "Final Four" of their sport, I just have to shrug my head and say "consider the source."