Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My 2017 Nebraska Football Prediction: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Last week, I was asked my thoughts about how the Huskers would do this football season, and frankly, I don't really know.  I actually have a wide range of thoughts, starting at 10-2 (Woohoo! Big Ten West champions, baby) and working my way down.

Way down.

All the way to "Mike Riley's heading back to Corvallis at Christmas time and not coming back" down.

Why am I so uncertain?  Only nine returning starters, once you cross cornerback Chris Jones off the list  with his knee injury. A new defensive scheme.  And perhaps most importantly, new unproven offensive skill players on offense.

I like the hire of Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator, so I feel OK that could work out in the long term. But truth be told, if Riley felt the need to replace a coordinator this offseason, I wouldn't have given Mark Banker a pink slip last January.  I would have gone to the other side of the ball.

Yes, I admit it:  I'm still traumatized by 2015 and the bone-headed coaching that resulted in losses to Illinois and Purdue.  Especially Purdue, where the coaches abandoned the run and put the game on the shoulders of a walk-on quarterback to throw 48 passes.  First they threw Tommy Armstrong under the bus, then when he was out, threw the I-backs under the bus instead.  Credit to Mark Banker; he recognized his initial approach wasn't working in 2015 and changed things up as the season went on.  Danny Langsdorf didn't until the bowl game.

The convenient excuse the last two seasons was that the quarterback Langsdorf had wasn't a fit with the offense he wanted to run. So now he does. Or at least supposedly does.  We're hearing lots of hype about Tanner Lee this summer; many predicting him with an NFL future. But then I look at his statistics at Tulane, where his passing numbers were worse than Tommy Armstrong.  Some will excuse them because of injuries, but unless those injuries happened in preseason, that doesn't explain everything. Some will excuse them because of the surrounding talent, which is fine until you realize that Nebraska's receiver depth is really inexperienced.  Plus, now Lee will be facing Big Ten defenses, not those in the AAC.

Maybe he truly is an NFL prospect.  If so, then what is there to make of the fact that throughout spring, the coaches kept insisting that "Tanner O'Brien" and "Patrick Lee" were interchangeable and almost indistinguishable from one another.  (FWIW, Patrick O'Brien started the spring game over Lee.)  So we have an NFL prospect (a high NFL draft pick, according to Phil Steele) who apparently was neck and neck with a redshirt freshman.  So if we're to believe that, it's only logical to assume that Nebraska has two NFL caliber quarterbacks on their roster.

That may be true.  Or maybe we're being fed some good 'ol sunshine and lollipops to be washed down with something that would have been called Pedeyshine ten years ago. (Remember the last time we were told that NU had an NFL quarterback prospect planning to start?  It did not ... go well.)

That uncertainty makes this season tough to forecast.  If I'm to believe the hype, I see 9-3 or 10-2 as possible.  The Huskers get Wisconsin and Iowa at home, so I like how the schedule sets up.  If the quarterback play is as improved as we're being sold this summer, things could go really well.

But if that doesn't happen (and by many reports this spring, the offense struggled), Katy bar the door around here.  Purdue and Minnesota upgraded coaching staffs this offseason, Northwestern looks pretty formidable, and Penn State jumps on the schedule.  What's the floor?  I almost hesitate to say, but most of those early Vegas and ESPN predictions came in at 5-7/6-6.  That means the floor is lower - much lower.

So yep, I won't even put 4-8 or even 3-9 completely out of the question.  And if that happens, it becomes quite elementary what the result is going to be.

My best guess?  Riley survives with a 7-5 season.  He gets an upset or two (say Wisconsin in Lincoln), but then drops a turd in the punchbowl again at Illinois or Purdue.  But it's just that: a guess.

Because this season, nothing between 2-10 and 10-2 would completely surprise me.  In other words:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

There's No Crying in Baseball

Clearly Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hanks' character in "A League of Their Own," never coached in a YMCA league. If he had, he never would have never claimed that "there's no crying in baseball."

My son is playing his first season of player-pitch baseball this summer, and we're encountering some growing pains. He's actually done better than I thought with the idea of being selective at the plate (especially with a wild pitcher), but that doesn't mean it's always good.

Take Friday night's game.  We're facing a pitcher who's struggling to get the ball to the plate, and when he does, it's usually with an "eephus pitch" that happens to drop down right over the plate.  It's not any evil strategy on the other team's part; it's the only way this boy can get the ball to go 45 feet in the air.  But it's frustrating for the boys on my son's team.

Adding to the frustration is an umpire who decides to have a huge strike zone that's much larger than what the boys have dealt with in previous weeks.  I recognized this problem when I watched a pitch land six inches next to the plate being called a strike. Eventually, my son got his at bat.  He took a couple of pitches that went wide, then took a strike. He was still fine, though he was a little unsure of himself so he swung at a pitch he probably shouldn't have.  Then came an inside pitch that he didn't swing at.

Strike three.

It should have been ball four, but not with this umpire. The umpire explained to my son that the ball crossed the edge of the plate, and my son tried to explain the he thought the ball almost hit him.  Finally he slowly walked away, and I could see the look of heartbreak in his eyes.  I slowly walked up to the backstop, and the tears were flowing.  I tried to tell him it was OK, but I realized it was going to take much more than that.

So I walked around the backstop and into the dugout to give him a hug. As the inning ended, the rest of his team went out to the field, but he had already drawn the short straw as the player who had to sit out while the other team batted.  (Eleven players on his team that night; only nine position players needed on the field at a time.)

So we hugged.  He kept repeating how the pitch almost hit him and how unfair that the pitcher was throwing these "curve balls".  I mostly listened, but then started explaining that sometimes things don't go your way. If the umpire is calling that a strike, then that's the rule of the game...whether you like it or not.

And really, isn't that the way life is? Things aren't always fair.  Sometimes the rules change based on who is interpreting them.  It happens in school.  It happens at work.  It happens in your personal life.

Saturday afternoon, I showed my son the replay of the called third-strike that replay showed was about a foot off the plate.  I pointed out that umpires and referees are human too and make mistakes.

I make no presumptions about my son being any sort of athlete; he certainly doesn't get any talent from my genes. We're doing this for fun, and while that strikeout wasn't fun, I think he may have learned a little on Friday night.

The good thing is that he didn't dwell on it for long.  After I realized that discussing the situation wasn't stemming the tears, I decided to change the subject.  We started to play catch in the dugout; usually that's not such a good idea, but he needed a distraction.  The smile came back, and when he got another turn at bat, he beat out an infield single.

That, and a clean fielding play in the outfield were the highlights of his weekend on the diamond. It may have started with tears, but ended up with smiles.

And that's why we're doing this.  He had fun, and maybe he's learning something as well.  That makes it good for both of us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Tanner Lee Pre-Season Hype May Have Gone Too Far

I happened to glance at Twitter Saturday afternoon, and a Tweet from the Omaha World-Herald caught my eye.
I clicked on the link, and my jaw hit the floor.  The results?

33% said Tanner Lee would be a first team All-Big Ten honoree
35% said he would be second team
19% said he would be third team
13% said he wouldn't be an all-Big Ten honoree

Internet polls are infamous for their unreliability, but frankly, the very premise of the question seems unrealistic to me. Why is that? I simply go back to Lee's statistics from Tulane:  53% completion percentage, 23 touchdowns, 21 interceptions. Yet, 87% of respondents think he's going from being an AAC washout to one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

For comparison sake, Tommy Armstrong completed 52% of his passes his first two seasons with 31 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.  Armstrong's passer efficiency was in the 120's; Lee's never topped 110.

Let's take it a step further: all spring long, the coaches kept saying how close the battle was between Lee and Patrick O'Brien, a redshirt freshman who's never played one down of college football.  So if we are to believe that Lee is an all-conference candidate going into this season, then Patrick O'Brien would also be a candidate for all-Big Ten honors, if he were to play.

As a redshirt freshman.

And then there are the other quarterbacks in the league:  Penn State's Trace McSorley, Michigan's Wilton Speight and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett are all more accomplished quarterbacks than Lee.  Heck, I'd even argue that Indiana's Richard Lagow, Northwestern's David Thorson and even Purdue's David Blough (with upgraded coaching) have all proven more than Lee thus far.

Nothing would be more fun than to have Tanner Lee live up to these lofty expectations; if Lee plays at that level, then Nebraska is a serious contender, if not the favorite, to win the Big Ten west. So for goodness sake, I'd love it if the hype pans out.

But I'm having too much difficulty to reconcile what Lee has actually accomplished and what people are expecting. Are the fans and media setting Tanner Lee up to fail with unreasonable expectations?  What if Tanner Lee is simply a quarterback with good fundamentals who simply throws like Tommy Armstrong without the mobility.

How fast will fans turn on him if he doesn't deliver a west championship and all-conference honors?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

World-Herald Finds UNO's Reasons for Division 1 and Baxter Arena Unfulfilled

The Omaha World-Herald unleashed a fury of "Freedom of Information Act" requests towards UNO recently and found that the decisions to move to division 1 for all sports and build Baxter Arena haven't solved UNO's athletic financial problems.

In fact, you could aruge that problems may have gotten worse, not better.  (Especially the ill-thought through decision to build yet another arena in the Omaha area.)  But that's playing the blame-game; it doesn't solve UNO's issues.  You can't undo those decisions, especially the arena. Barring some sort of massive Papio Creek flood, UNO is stuck with paying for this arena.  So what is UNO doing?  Well, budgets are being scrutinized even further than ever. And in that light, it's pretty clear what the driving factor in the decision to choose Mike Gabinet over more qualified candidates was. Especially when you consider that eight weeks later, Gabinet still has only been able to hire one assistant coach.

The University system is being forced to pump more resources into UNO athletics; some of that is going to come from student fees, but in an increasingly tight budget situation in this state, the resources just aren't there to sustain it. I suspect that a dictum has been made to the Huskers athletic department to help out as much as possible.  NU volleyball will be playing in a tournament at Baxter Arena this September, and I frankly would be shocked if NU doesn't play UNO in men's basketball this upcoming winter.  Those should be easy moves for the folks in Lincoln; it's hard to justify spending money to fly UMBC halfway across the country when UNO will eagerly jump on a bus at any time.  The only question to me is whether the game shows up during winter break or on the weekend after the Big Ten tournament.

And yes, playing a non-conference game after the Big Ten tournament makes a lot of sense.  With the Big Ten moving their tournament up a week to play in Madison Square Garden, Big Ten teams could conceivably be idle for two weeks before playing in the NCAA or NIT tournaments.  You need a game to stay focused that week, and the Summit League tournament ends two days after the Big Ten's.

A lot of people are going to point to the move to Division 1 as a failure for UNO; I still believe that this move was the right one for UNO to make. Make no bones about it, it was a painful decision, but it was the right one.  Football had become a perennial money loser, with almost no hope of a turnaround in a market that's focused completely on Lincoln.  20 years ago, UNO found a niche playing in the evenings after NU played in the afternoons, but that's past history.  1-AA would only increase the budget damage now that Power Five schools aren't able to throw money at 1-AA opponents.

That means basketball is now UNO's best opportunity to fill the budget void, and getting regular paydays from schools like Nebraska will be a key for UNO athletic viability moving forward.  Can hockey remain the flagship sport for UNO?  The gamble to hire Gabinet is certainly risky in that light.  Underrated is the potential of soccer; I suspect soccer is capable of drawing decent sized crowds to Caniglia Field in the future. It's certainly a more viable sport for UNO than football was.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Takeaways: My Tips for Disney World

So what were my lessons learned about Disney World?  I'll try to summarize it here:
  • Because of the 180 day reservation rule, you really need to start planning a Disney World vacation seven to 12 months before you go.  Can you do it with less time? Absolutely, but there are some things you won't be able to do.
  • Figure out how you are going to allocate your time roughly between each of the four parks early on; it can help guide you with deciding where to stay.
  • Don't worry about trying to see it all.  It might take a month to see and do everything. Prioritize what you want to see, and don't be afraid to skip anything in favor of repeating things that you know you'll enjoy.
  • If you live around the Omaha area, consider skipping Animal Kingdom entirely. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo has much better animal attractions than Disney World, so why spend your time there versus spending times at other attractions that you cannot experience at home?
  • Trying to figure it all out?  Pick up a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Disney World. It has in depth reviews of all of the rides, resorts and restaurants.  It's a huge read, but better than anything else I found.  Their "TouringPlans.com" companion web site and "Lines" app for your iPhone are great resources for planning your trip. How regimented you allow yourself to be on your trip is up to you, but these sites will give you the best information on what are most popular attractions and how to get to squeeze as much into your trip and minimize the boring waits.
  • When it come time to pick a place to say, pay attention to the transportation options between a resort you are considering and the various places you want to go.  (Hint: you may need to allow an hour or more just to get from point A to point B with Disney transportation.)  It will vary, so choose carefully.
  • You can save money staying at a non-Disney resort, but you'll likely spend even more time dealing with transportation, and you may not be able to get reservations or FastPass reservations for the most popular meals and rides (Cinderella's Royal Table, Frozen, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, etc.) since on-site guests get first crack at those.
  • Like most hotels, Disney resorts list capacity by assuming two people per bed. That may not work for your family, so it's handy to have this list of resorts that have more than two sleeping surfaces in some rooms: Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, Art of Animation, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian.  Some of these are suites that can hold 6 to 9 people.  Disney World does not offer rollaways, so don't expect that as a solution.
  • A really good site with in depth reviews of Disney accomodations is yourfirstvisit.net . I'd take all of their conclusions with a huge grain of salt; the author has specific recommendations based on their own itineraries that may - or may not - match your needs.
  • Decide what's important to you: each resort has a different "theme" with different amenities. Do you want a bigger pool?  A more kid-attractive design?  Do you want to be closer to the parks you are going to visit more often? (Pay close attention to that one!)  Do you want to spend as little as possible?  Again, it's your money and your vacation.  You make the decision.
  • Give a Vacation Club rental some consideration.  You can get a better accommodation for less money.  We did, and don't regret it one bit.
  • Apply for the Disney Visa card, even if you have a really good cash-back credit card. Some restaurants and most souveneir stands offer a 10% discount if you use your Disney Visa.  Plus, there are exclusive meet-and-greets (WITH NO LINES) with Disney characters available.
  • Don't get the Disney Dining Plan.
  • That last one may surprise people.  Years ago, the Disney Dining Plan apparently was a good deal for most people.  Now that it's so popular, Disney doesn't feel the need to price it as such, and now it's rarely a good deal for most people.  There are exceptions, especially for folks who would happen to eat exactly as the plan calls for if the plan didn't exist. In researching it, I've found that the majority of people end up spending more with the plan than they would have if they just paid ala carte.  That's especially true if your kids are 10 years old and still prefer kids meals; 10 year olds pay adult prices, even if they are fine with chicken nuggets at each meal.
  • If you see an ad for "Free Dining", look to see what other discounts are available so you know how much you are paying for that "free" dining plan.  (Hint:  it's never free, and still probably not a good deal.  The Mouse usually wins.)
  • Price your trip seperately from park tickets; I bought our tickets from ParkSavers and saved about 10%.
  • Don't be afraid to "Park Hop" especially if you are a first time visitor. Disney offers a new "express transportation" option which takes you directly from one park to another without stopping for security.  We "park hopped" three times on our trip (not using the express option), going to a different park after supper than we started the day at.  It's reassuring for a first time visitor to be able to switch parks if you find that your plans aren't working out for you that day.  
  • If you can be at the park when it opens (commonly referred to as "rope drop"), you'll probably be able to cram in an afternoon's worth of fun into the first hour the park is opened.
  • Making it to "rope drop" can be a challenge when you stayed up late the night before watching fireworks.  So try to pace yourself and remember, you aren't able to see everything.  Set your priorities.
  • To get moving early in the morning, consider eating breakfast in your room as you get ready.  Pop-tarts and breakfast bars can be quick breakfasts.
  • Grocery delivery to your Disney resort is a great way to save time and money versus buying breakfast at the Disney counter service locations.  Garden Grocer is the longtime standard, but Publix now offers delivery via Instacart.  The Instacart/Publix solution has MUCH better prices and selection than Garden Grocer.  Some people like Amazon Prime, but that won't help you with perishables like milk, juice and fruit.
  • I hate buying bottled water, as I consider it wasteful. But Orlando's city water tastes and smells awful due to it's high sulfur content.  It's safe to drink, but you might consider buying water with your grocery delivery.  Some people also prefer to use the flavoring concentrates or packets to hide the taste.
  • If you are taking a week or more for your trip, some people suggest taking "rest days" where you don't go to a park.  But with Fastpasses and the relatively low cost of adding days to your park ticket, I think "rest days" are wastes of time.  Instead, plan for lighter days.  Sleep in, grab some Fastpasses for late morning/early afternoon, then head back to your room for pool time and an early bedtime.  This is also a great way to get FastPasses for both Soarin' and Frozen by turning Epcot into two half-days on your schedule.
  • If you don't have the dining plan and are heading back to your resort in the late afternoon, order in supper via restaurant delivery from outside the World.  Yelp is a great source of finding restaurants that deliver.  Here's a list that I had:  Giordano's and UNO for delicious Chicago-style pizza, Chevy's for Tex-Mex, Chili's and Bahama Breeze for burgers and traditional casual dining.  It'll cost you less and the food will certainly be better than what Disney has to offer.
  • If your kids want to see the Disney characters, your best bet can be a character meal. It'll cost you dearly in terms of time (90 minutes) and money, but you (a) have to eat at some point and (b) you'd spend all that time (and then some) waiting in line for a meet-and-greet anyway.  I didn't notice a big different in terms of character interactions at any of our character meals, but I did notice a difference in food quality.  (Tusker House dinner is awful.)  Check the menus before booking.  A lot of people like character breakfasts, but the morning is also the best time to check out the rides before the lines get ridiculously long.
  • It's expensive, but you might want to pay for Disney's PhotoPass before you head to Orlando.  (You save $20 if you buy it three days before you arrive.) Disney photographers are available everywhere to take your picture, and you'll get amazing pictures you won't get any other way (like the above picture from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train).  Yes, you can take selfies, but these are better...and who wants to spend their vacation staring at a phone screen?
  • While you are waiting in line for an attraction, use the Lines app to gauge what attractions you might do next; it'll show you both Disney's announced wait times as well as what their metrics actually predict.  It'll even suggest whether you are better off waiting or not.
  • Your phone battery probably won't survive the day at Disney.  Bring along portable batteries and charging cables so you can give your phone a boost during the day. That might also mean you need extra chargers at night to recharge everything. Disney hotel rooms do not have alarm clocks, so plan to charge your phone on the nightstand next to the bed.
But did we have a good time?  The kids had a blast; in fact, my son asked me when we could go back as the bus pulled away from Disney World.  So we'll probably go back in a couple of years, though this time, probably split with a four day Disney Cruise, leaving from Port Canaveral, which is about an hour east of Orlando.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Magic Kingdom: Disney World's Crown Jewel (Part Four of Five)

Our last three days at Disney World, our trip was mostly focused on the Magic Kingdom. That wasn't necessarily by design initially; I used crowd predictors to pick parks for each day, and our Magic Kingdom days ended up getting pushed to the end of the trip.

Thursday morning, we were able to get the kids up and fed in time to be able to get through security at the Magic Kingdom in time for a 9 am "rope drop".  My daughter loved the welcome show, but my son and I found that it was a great opportunity to make a dash for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at opening. The wait turned out to be only about 15 minutes.  We then got another ride in at Buzz Lightyear then redid Splash Mountain.  I checked the time and realized that at park opening, my son was able to redo his entire first afternoon in less than an hour with much less standing in lines.

But as the morning went on, the lines started to get longer. We took our obligatory ride on "it's a small world" which is just as annoying as you might have expected. (The best solution I've heard for this ride is to bring your own headphones and pipe your own music in over that damn song.)  Then came lunch time and my daughter's favorite part of the trip: Lunch at Cinderella's Castle. This is probably the most popular character meal at Disney World, and certainly the nicest setting. It's so nice, in fact, that I had to prepay for everything when I made our reservations 180 days earlier.  I only paid for my daughter and I to go; I figured my son had zero interest in seeing princesses.  (And I had even less interest in spending $60 to listen to him complain.)  He and his mom went and ate waffles for lunch at Sleepy Hollow; from what I could see, her lunch looked better than mine.  I had a roast pork served with some fancy beans... yep, an attempt at a high-class pork and beans, all for my $60+.  For what it's worth, my daughter loved her "royal" chicken nuggets.

This is where I repeat:  You don't go to Disney World for the food. And this lunch wasn't about the food (although the chocolate pie I had for dessert was really good), but about my daughter meeting the princesses. And she adored it. What surprised me were the number of adults eating lunch there without children, but another thing I learned at Disney World is that everyone kind of becomes a kid again.  While we were eating,
Look closely. That says
170 minutes!
I noticed through the windows that it was getting awfully dark outside, and so I switched my phone from camera to a radar app. Sure enough, a thundershower was rolling through Orlando at that same time, shuttind down all of the outdoor rides while we were at lunch. The aftermath? Ridiculously long lines the rest of the afternoon. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was posted at just shy of three hours, and everything else was backed up. So after one last FastPass on the Winnie the Pooh ride (not worth it for anybody school age, even if they still like Pooh), we headed back to Bay Lake Tower and the pool.  It was a quick swim, because we had dinner reservations at Animal Kingdom's Tusker House, with a package deal to get good seats for the new Rivers of Light show.

I've heard a lot of raves about the food at Tusker House, but I've since learned that much of that comes from people starting their day with breakfast. For us, Tusker House was the WORST food we had on our trip. I'm sure much of that was a personal preference as the menu is heavily African themed, though I did see a lot of adults around the kids buffet.  My son didn't even like those "kid friendly" options, so it was rather frustrating to spend $200 on a meal and have him go away hungry.  We did get some cute pictures of Goofy
Goofy says "Eat Your
Supper!"
and Donald Duck trying to encourage him to eat something, though.  While we were waiting for my son to finally eat something, I found a "day-of" FastPass online for the Expedition Everest roller coaster, and I used that as an incentive to get him to eat a little bit.  He loved that ride enough that I got him another one immediately afterwards, while my wife hit the concession stand for kids snacks during the show. (You shouldn't need to buy snacks after an "all you can eat" buffet, but that's the situation we were in.)

I enjoyed the Rivers of Light show, but looking back, I imagine kids being bored with it.  It reminded me a lot of an Olympics opening ceremony: lots of music and lighting effects, but nothing kid-enticing. My kids didn't seem to mind it, though.  If this show were at any other park, the producers would add fireworks to it, but that would cause too much of a panic in the animal attractions. I am glad that we did the dining package, even if the food wasn't good.  I saw the ridiculously long standby lines for the show, and decided that it was still a better investment than waiting two hours in line.  (Though then I could have had more Flame Tree Barbeque for supper...)

The late night at Animal Kingdom meant that we were slow to get going Friday morning, and since it was an "Extra Magic Hours" morning at Magic Kingdom, we arrived to find many of the lines at Disney World already pretty long when we arrived at 8:30 am.  (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was over an hour at that point.)  We did get to do an early run on the Buzz Lightyear spin, and my son and I did Big Thunder Mountain. (Big Thunder is probably hitting my upper limit on roller coasters.)  My wife did let my son ride solo on Space Mountain in the first hour; neither parent had the will to try that.  The difference between our two kids were never so apparent than with our morning FastPasses:  my daughter screamed and hated "Pirates of the Carribbean" while my son probably would have rather had a spelling test than sit through "its a small world".  (Truth be told, Mom & Dad probably would have preferred to help my son with his spelling than sit through that.  If we have to do "small world" again, I might have to take the suggestion of bringing headphones and providing your own soundtrack instead of listening to that . . . song . . . over and over and over again.)

We then headed to Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, which had a bit of an unexpected wait..though it turned out to be well worth it when they picked my daughter to be part of the show!  The premise of the show is that the characters from Monsters Inc. have converted from trying to scare kids into making them laugh, turning this into a G-rated comedy show.  The animated characters perform on the main screen, and they randomly surprise audience members by pointing a camera on them.  And about midway through, there's my shirt and my daughter up on the screen. She wasn't the target of any jokes, but she played the set up person for all of the jokes, and had a blast.

Lunch was with Winnie the Pooh at the Crystal Palace; I had thought my kids were too old for Pooh and friends, but I guess you're never too old for anything at Disney World. It certainly was a relaxed vibe, and the food was OK.  I think Hollywood & Vine was a little better in terms of food, but let me say again... you don't go to Disney World for the food.  And you aren't paying over $150 for lunch for the food either.  After lunch, we had our final preset FastPass for the Mad Tea Party, which amazingly turned out to be another ride everyone seemed to like.  After that, I started checking online for wait times and realized that pretty much everything we'd want to ride had a minimum of a 45 minute wait.  So we made a couple of gift store purchases and headed back to Bay Lake Tower for a final afternoon swim.

I had bought a few boxes of Macaroni & Cheese with our groceries to have on hand for a contingency, and since everyone was pretty full from the lunch buffet, we decided to just have that for supper along with a couple of slices of leftover pizza. (Yep! A cheap meal at Disney World!) Since it was our last night, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom for one final fireworks show.  Weird thing for us is that the show seemed different (no Tinkerbell flying out of the castle) than the one we saw two nights before.  While we were waiting, I scanned my Disney app and found a FastPass for Buzz Lightyear shortly after the fireworks, so I figured, what the heck.  And once we finished that, another FastPass for the Mad Tea Party.  My wife was concerned we were staying up too late, but I reminded her this was our last night. The kids could sleep on the plane or sleep in on Sunday morning in their own bed.  And as we headed out, my daughter wanted one more ride on the Regal Carousel, which even my son obliged.  Everyone was pretty tired when we got back to the room, so it wasn't a problem getting the kids to bed quickly.  Mom & Dad, however, had to start packing up.

Since we had a washer and dryer in the room, we didn't have that many clothes to pack, so the only issue was finding room for the souveneirs we were bringing back. Fortunately, we had brought a couple of small extra bags on our trip empty so that we could check more bags on the way home. (That's the one good thing about Southwest Airlines.)  Fortunately, everything seemed to fit, making it easy to finish packing the next morning.

One of the things Disney does well is making the arrival and departure process easy, and departure is extra easy. The next morning, we found our boarding passes hanging on our room door, so we were set. We dropped our carry on bags with bell services at the front door, and then headed over to the Contemporary with our checked bags.  Boom! Everything was checked in with the airline and we were ready to go.  Except that our bus wasn't leaving until 1:20 pm and it was 8:30 am.  So it was off to the Magic Kingdom for one last morning of fun!

No "extra magic hours" this morning, so at "rope drop", we had our choice of attractions.  My son wanted to do Big Thunder Mountain one last time, and then we headed for Buzz Lightyear yet again, even though we had a FastPass for later in the morning. We also hit a couple of classics with "Mickey's PhilharMagic" and Dumbo.  PhilharMagic always seemed to have really short wait times in the afternoon, but it turned out to be a pretty good 3-D show.  I kind of wish we would have snuck that in on a busy, hot afternoon. And since we were nearby, my son wanted to do Goofy's Barnstormer kiddie roller coaster. For some reason, he liked that more than the other coasters; it might have simply been the Goofy association.  After one last carousel ride, we headed for our final ride:  Buzz Lightyear with a FastPass+.  And just like our first ride, we found the longest line.  In fact, the line was so long, I wasn't sure we could afford to wait.  But the line started moving, and we gave it a chance, and we were able to get it in.  They were having some issues with the ride, as it stopped three or four times as we rode through.  That wasn't a problem, though...as it simply gave us more time to score points.  (New high score for me of over 200,000!)

But then it was time to head out, as we were supposed to be ready for the bus to the airport in 20 minutes. Our original agenda was to have lunch at Chef Mickey's, but we cancelled it two days earlier because (a) we already had done two character meals and (b) we realized that we didn't think we could spare the 90 minutes for lunch.  And considering the ride issues on Buzz Lightyear, we certainly wouldn't have made our lunch reservation.  In fact, we didn't even have time to eat lunch, so we grabbed a couple of snacks out of my wife's backpack to hold us over until we got to the airport.  The Magical Express got us to the airport in more than enough time; we had over two hours once we arrived, so it actually ended up a good use of our time.  (Airport food or Disney food, you decide which is less worse.  Surprisingly, airport food was much cheaper than Disney food.)

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of Southwest Airlines because of their "cattle car" setup.  It's OK if I'm travelling by myself for business, but for family trips, I wasn't going to risk it. Except Southwest does have some non-stops between Omaha and Orlando, which are awfully hard to resist. And my concern about the "cattle car" was reduced now that Southwest sells "Early Bird Checkin", which pretty much assures you "A" group boarding.  So when we booked, I figured Southwest's $15 fee for Early Bird Checkin offset the other airline's luggage fees, so we just picked the most convenient flights for us.

Southwest's non-stop flight from Omaha to Orlando left before 6 am in the morning, which wasn't family friendly in my eyes.  Getting the kids up at 3:30 am to fly to Disney seemed like starting the trip on a really bad note.  So we compromised:  flew American to Chicago the night before, enjoyed the pool at the hotel that's connected to O'Hare (great indoor pool!), then caught a 7 am flight the next morning.  It still got us to Orlando in the morning, so we could still have some Disney fun that first day, but saved us two hours of sleep.

The flight back was easy to pick on Southwest:  a three hour flight straight to Omaha. There was no wifi and thus no entertainment on board, but it didn't really matter at all to our kids. My son curled up in his seat and was out cold before the plane even took off.  (I only let him nap for about 45 minutes, though.)  I did leave Sunday completely unscheduled (other than picking up our dog from the vet), because I wasn't sure how much sleep the kids needed to make up.  They did sleep until well after 8 am that morning, which I'm sure their teachers appreciated the next day.

So what are my takeaways from Disney World?  Some of my opinions were confirmed, and some of the advice I found online turned out to be worth what I paid for it (zero).  I'll summarize that in the conclusion in part five.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Line, Lines and More Lines at Disney World (Part Three of Five)

Any doubts we had about choosing Bay Lake Tower for our trip to Disney World quickly vanished once we actually arrived. Not only was the staff super friendly, but the kids loved the room - even before I pulled them out to the balcony to show them Cinderella's Castle and Space Mountain across the parking lot. Very quickly, we were heading across that same parking lot for the Magic Kingdom and some lunch. (Hunger was quite enhanced by the fact that we'd been up since 5 am to catch our flight to Orlando.)  Figuring that the kids would rather eat at the park than at the resort cafeteria, we headed to Cosmic Ray's in TomorrowLand.  I had already prepared myself mentally to spend close to $50 for fast food burgers, and come to grips with it as part of the price. The burgers and chicken nuggets were nothing fancy and fine; not sure we needed the two pounds of fries they gave the four of us.  But whatcha gonna do?

This was the FastPass+ line for
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
Cosmic Rays met my main criteria for lunch: first, it had something acceptable for everybody and secondly, it was really close to our first FastPass reservation: Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. We had heard all of the horror stories about lines at DisneyWorld, but nothing quite prepared me for the FastPass line for the Buzz Lightyear ride.  I had assumed that FastPass allowed you to go to the front of the line, but it turns out, it actually just gets you into a shorter (?) line.  And on that first afternoon, the line for Buzz wrapped around the queues and all the way over to the next ride.  Now, I had worked to set up a personalized schedule from touringplans.com, a site that tries to fit as many of the things that you want to do into an order that they call a "touring plan." (I'm not sure I'd use the word "touring" to describe a day at DisneyWorld, but OK...)  The expected wait time to get in was supposed to be about five minutes, but the line was actually over a half hour long.  (The "standby" line for people without passes was posted as an hour long; I suspect it was even longer than that.)  Once we got on the ride, we had a blast... in fact, I dare say that was our favorite ride at Disney World.  I think we rode it at least six other times the rest of the week!

Afterwards, we manually started to shuffle our "plan" and moved straight to watch the parade. My 10 year daughter loved it (especially when Merida pointed at her and mouth a complement about their red hair); my seven year old son didn't until after all of the princesses had passed by.  After that, it was off to more rides and activities. I felt bad for my son: he had FastPasses for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Splash Mountain, but because of the lines, that's all he got to do that afternoon. My daughter did get a couple of character meets and a ride on the carousel (because that line was only 15 minutes long) in. Needless to say, we weren't exactly feeling any "magic" at Disney's Magic Kingdom that afternoon, and so we headed back to Bay Lake Tower.  The kids went swimming while I did something that's probably sacriligeous to the Disney-obsessed.

I ordered pizza for supper.  From a non-Disney restaurant.  This was all planned, as I also was waiting for a delivery of groceries.  Since we had a kitchen with a full size refrigerator, we figured we'd eat breakfast and snacks in the room as we got ready each day. And as long as we were going to be getting pizza delivery, beer to wash it down.  And it was good pizza.  Damn good pizza.

Giordano's Deep Dish!
Best meal we had.
Giordano's.  The Chicago-style deep dish.  Yes, it's a chain, but the nearest locations to Omaha are 300 miles away in Minneapolis. I don't know if Giordano's is better in Chicago, or if Lou Malnati's is better than Giordano's in Chicago.  All I know is that Giordano's was the best meal we had in Orlando...and since we ordered extra for leftovers (again, we had a kitchen), it actually was the best two meals we had.

The other benefit of Bay Lake Tower? All we had to do to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks was walk out onto the balcony. No lines, no mass of humanity.  And five minutes later, the kids were in bed. (After a 16 hour day, that's a good thing.)

The next morning, the plan was to hit Animal Kingdom and then hop over to Epcot. That plan hit a snag when exhausted kids slept in later than the "touring plan" suggested, which was then complicated by a 45 minute wait for Disney to send a bus to our resort. We watched three buses come and go to Epcot (two left empty) and a couple for Hollywood Studios before we finally were able to head to Animal Kingdom.  That resulting delay meant that when we got to Killimanjaro Safaris first thing, we had to stand in line for an hour. The Safari was marginally interesting, but since we usually head to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo several times a year, wasn't worth the time we spent waiting for it. (People who don't have a good zoo nearby will almost certainly have different opinions.)

Disney does shows extremely well, and after the Safari, we hit the "Festival of the Lion King" and "Finding Nemo: The Musical."  Both shows were impressive performances.  In between, we had lunch at the Flame Tree Barbeque, which might have been the best Disney restaurant we ate at on our trip. Comparatively speaking, it also was one of the better values, as we were so stuffed afterwards that we just had snacks the rest of the day instead of actually having supper.  We also watched "It's Tough to Be a Bug", which absolutely freaked my 10 year old daughter out.

Our day at Animal Kingdom could have been better if we had planned FastPasses for that day, but we decided to take advantage of our Park Hopper that day and use our three FastPasses at Epcot that evening. Epcot tiers their FastPasses, and only allows you to select one of their top three attractions each day. So by spending parts of two days at Epcot, we were able to get FastPasses for both Frozen and Test Track.

Half hour in line with a FastPass+ for Frozen
105 minutes for standby. Yikes.
My daughter absolutely loved the first part of the new Frozen ride at Epcot (even though the FastPass line took over a half hour to get through). Then she hit the small waterslide part in the boat, and just about lost it; she hates any sort of thrill ride, which ended the ride on a bad note.  The kids really liked the interactive "Turtle Talk with Crush" show, where "surfer dude" Crush from Finding Nemo interacted with all the kids in the audience.  Great fun that leaves you wondering "how do they do that?"  "The Seas with Nemo and Friends" next door was a huge disappointment though; it's a ride through an aquarium, but it pales in comparison to the aquarium at Omaha's zoo.  Although we were exhausted after a full day of hitting two parks, we found enough strength to get some pretty good (and expensive, even by Disney standards) ice cream at L'Artisan des Glaces while we waited a few minutes for the Illuminations show, which features iluminated floats and fireworks on a lake.

Tuesday, we had already planned to make that a "sleep in" day, so we had a late breakfast planned at the "Kona Cafe" at the Polynesian Resort.  We love Hawai'i, and thought that some "POG" (Passion fruit/Orange/Guava juice cocktail) was hard to resist for a little splurge. The POG was good, but much of the rest of the breakfast was rather mediocre.  We then headed to Hollywood Studios for the day.  Many people suggest skipping Hollywood Studios, as many rides and attractions have closed as a new "Star Wars" land is under construction. That wasn't our experience; in fact, I think our kids rated Hollywood Studios as our second favorite park.  The Indiana Jones Stunt show was very entertaining, and my son loved seeing all of the Star Wars characters.  My daughter preferred the Frozen sing-a-long, though.  Everybody got a big kick out of Toy Story Midway Mania, though; it's another shooting arcade game like Buzz Lightyear; we even rode it a second time without a FastPass just before supper because the lines were starting to dwindle.

We finished our day at Hollywood Studios with a "character dinner" at Hollywood & Vine, which featured Mickey and Minne Mouse with Donald and Daisy Duck. Some reviewers have panned this restaurant elsewhere, but frankly, we thought this was the best buffet we had at Disney World. We picked this as part of a dining package which also gave us preferred seating for the nighttime Fantasmic show, which the kids loved. As we left, we did see the Star Wars fireworks in the distance; we could have stayed later and moved closer, but figured we were better off grabbing the first available bus back instead of getting stuck in the fireworks crowds.

Wednesday morning, we headed back to Epcot with the hope of getting there early enough to ride Soarin' in the standby line, but thanks to monorail issues, we got there too late to do that.  Instead we checked out Spaceship Earth (the huge 18 story globe), which was pretty interesting (and thankfully didn't set off my claustrophobia).  My son and I went on Ellen's Energy Adventure, which while interesting, is just a touch too long at 37 minutes.  After that, we hit Test Track, which allowed guest to design their own car, and then head on a 65 mph spin in a convertable around the building on the test track. You're going faster than any other ride at Disney, but it's more thrilling than putting the top down on a highway because of the banked turns. (My son and I loved it; my wife and daughter didn't.)  Afterwards, it was nearly impossible to get our kids out of the pavillion where you can experiment with all sorts of car wizardry.  But there was an issue to all of this:  remember the "Touring Plans" schedule that I had set out?  Well, the schedule was based on spending about a half hour or so at Test Track, but we ended up spending well over an hour.  And that schedule?  Pretty much trash at that point.

My wife and son rode Mission Space while my daughter and I started manually reworking our afternoon plan for Epcot. Lunch at La Cantina de San Angel was pretty good, though my kids were starting to hit the exhaustion stage.  We attempted to start touring the World Showcase, but I eventually came to the realization that it's mostly shopping with an exhibit here and there.  Even though we were about halfway through the World Showcase, we made another audible.   My wife wanted to continue looking, but my son was clearly done, so I decided to take him back to the room.  On our way out, I located a secret character meeting spot only for Disney Visa cardholders. The look on my son's face when he turned the corner to meet Mickey and Goofy did wonders to reset his attitude.

Getting back to the resort and the pool helped even more. Our original plan was to spend the whole day at Epcot, but we'd had enough.  My wife and daughter joined us back at the room an hour or so later; eventually they hit that exhaustion stage as well.  Thankfully, we didn't have any reservations at Epcot that night, so supper became the leftover pizza from Sunday night.  And after that, we were refreshed enough to head back into the Magic Kingdom to catch the fireworks from just outside Cinderella's Castle before heading back to bed.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Picking a Place to Stay at Disney World (Part Two of a Five Part Series)

So what exactly did we plan for Disney World? The first thing we did was make room reservations at a Disney resort.  Why "on site"? The big thing was getting an early jump on picking FastPasses, as we realized that some rides (such as Frozen and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) might not be available to visitors not staying at Disney.  Would it cost more?  Yes, but we also figured it was part of the cost of doing Disney; either do it right or don't bother.

Picking where to stay at Disney World can be a mind-blowing exercise, as Disney has over 30,000 rooms at over 25 different resorts.  Which one to pick?  This seemed daunting until I realized what question I needed to ask:  how many beds are in each room?  That's not intuitively easy to figure out, because Disney rates their rooms by number of people, not number of beds. Once I figured out which resorts had rooms with three beds, the list was cut down to just eight...which made this a much simpler exercise of figuring out where to stay.  Disney rates their resorts into three categories:  value, moderate and deluxe.  No moderates met the cut, so it was either deluxe or value.

The instinct for most would be to go "value", but I didn't assume anything - even if it were "just a place to sleep."  And I'm glad I didn't assume, because research surprised me.  For example, while Disney does provide complementary transportation throughout their World, some places have multiple, better options.  One factor I did consider was "theming," but not in the manner that the Disney fanatics consider it. Some resorts, especially at the value end, go full-on with turning your room into a cartoon. While the kids might love it, I was sure that after a week, I'd be going insane from looking at the Little Mermaid or Mater first thing in the morning.  While some people love and dream of that over-the-top approach, that wasn't me.

As I researched my options, I learned that many of my options were actually Disney Vacation Club properties, which are timeshare properties owned by Disney. What I found curious was that one site discouraged first time visitors from considering a DVC property, but the more I looked at my Disney options, the more I realized that DVC was precisely what I wanted.

While DVC properties can be rented directly from Disney, DVC owners have first shot at the rooms. That doesn't mean that only DVC owners can get a reservation, though. Two services, David's Vacation Club Rentals and the DVC Rental Store serve as intermediaries to allow DVC owners to rent out their points. I did the math, and quickly realized that I could stay at a "deluxe" property at a cost not much more than some of the "value" accomodations.

Our actual view from Bay Lake Tower., with
Space Mountain on the right and Cinderella's Castle
in the distance on the left.
At that point, the choice was crystal clear:  we were going with a one-bedroom condo at Bay Lake Tower as our first choice.  Bay Lake Tower is noteworthy for being the closest accomodations to the Magic Kingdom, which is the park most people think of when they think Disney World.  (Cinderella's Castle, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, for example.)  That means that rather than waiting for a bus, we could walk over to the Magic Kingdom in just five minutes.  We also got a washer and dryer in the room (meaning we didn't need to lug as much clothes along or waste time in laundromats) as well as a kitchen for dining in.  We put in our bid with David's in May, and within a few days, they found the points and got us a reservation for Bay Lake Tower for March.  We couldn't even book a room to Disney World through Disney at that time; they didn't open up 2017 reservations until late June 2016.  (I then checked the rates, and sure enough, I realized the DVC option made even more sense for us.)

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Going to Disney World? Start Planning. Then Plan Some More. Keep On Planning.

About a year ago, my wife told me some news that I had been dreading for years: "It's time to take the kids to Disney World."

Disney and Mickey Mouse have never been my thing. I grew up in the era before cable TV, back in the day when the only kids TV was what was on the three local stations or PBS. And in those days, it was all Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner.  The only time the Mouse showed up on my parent's 25" console TV were Sunday evenings for the "Wonderful World of Disney", which we almost never watched because it came on during Sunday dinner.

Now Disney has their own cable channel and if you have kids, it's almost impossible to NOT see it. It's the exact opposite situation now; it's almost impossible to find a Bugs Bunny cartoon anymore.  So I knew this trip was coming; the only question was when.  We had discussed it briefly a few years back, but my wife figured that the kids needed to be a little older when we did it.  So we waited.

I'm usually the vacation planner, so I dove in head first to see what we needed to do.  The first thing I realized was that a Disney World vacation is unlike just about any other vacation you might try to plan. There are dozens of web sites and books full of advice.  Scratch that: not just advice.  Plans.  Specific plans on how to attack each aspect of the trip, and how you need to make reservations for certain things six months ahead of time, others 60 days, and yet other things seven to eleven months in advance. Even specific itineraries.

And it's not like Disney World is just an amusement park; it's actually four parks surrounded by 30,000+ Disney owned hotel rooms in an area that probably couldn't fit between Westroads and Oak View Mall in Omaha.  So I started reading.  And reading.  And reading.  One web site says this, another says another.

It didn't help that Disney World fans speak their own language.  In fact, I found an entire subculture of America that I never knew existed:  Disney Fans.  (Think "Star Wars Geeks wearing ears".)  They even have their own language, as they communicate almost exclusively through abbreviations.  For example, this is a perfectly valid sentence to Disney Fanatics: "What time do we need to get ADR for pre-RD breakfast at BOG, and what time would we need to leave POFQ?"  (Got that?  Good!)

So I dug in and started reading.  And reading.  And reading.  Then started planning.  And planning.  Made room reservations nine months in advance.  Flights six months in advance.  And yes, dining reservations six months in advance, getting up at 5 am the morning to booking things.  Yes, that's right.  Restaurant reservations open 180 days ahead of time, and some, such as Cinderella's Royal Table quickly sell out. So I'm done, right?

Wrong. Now it was time to set up daily schedules: what attractions and in what order.  Continually checking the Disney site for updates to schedules.  In fact, I rescheduled several of my reservations as plans evolved. Some of the restaurants had dining packages for shows that we wanted to see, but reservations for those weren't available when the six month window opened.  So it was a continually evolving process.  I even added a dining package at another restaurant when a new show, Rivers of Light, opened a month before our trip.  Of course, that meant more changes to our schedule.

60 days before our trip, I was still moving stuff around, but it was time to start booking the FastPasses, which are reservations where you get to bump some of the line at an attraction.  So now I'm taking guesses as to what we want to see and when we want to do it, so once again, I'm up early to beging making those reservations.  You get three of these each day, and some of the more popular rides fill up quickly.

But here's the rub: since we have never been to Disney World, we really don't know what we want to do. Sure, there are plenty of books and videos for each ride out there...but what's the point of watching every ride online before you go? So by this time, I just took my best guesses as to what we wanted to do, and just started working with it.

Where did we end up staying? That's in part two. So how did the trip turn out?  Well, that'll be in parts three and four.  And what are my lessons that I learned?  That's part five.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is UNO Giving Up on Hockey? And if so, should I?

My worst fear has just came true. The candidate I felt was woefully unqualified to be named head coach of UNO hockey was just named head coach.
Sorry. Mike Gabinet has 1 year of NCAA coaching experience and just three years experience as a paid coach; the other two at a small school in Canada.  That hardly qualifies him to be a head coach in the premier college hockey conference.

Yes, it's "nice" that an alum gets to take over a program and that the players like him, but if UNO is serious about competing in the NCHC and nationally, UNO needed to hire a coach who's been prepared to coach at this level. Mike Gabinet is not that coach.

Over the last year, UNO has made a habit of replacing experienced coaches and promoting up lesser paid assistants in all of their sports.  The baseball team is the biggest example of that, where Evan Porter's squad is struggling mightily at 6-21. The rumors are that UNO's financial issues have forced the issue, a situation created by the deficits at Baxter Arena.

When Dean Blais stepped down, Trev Alberts made it a point to say that finances weren't going to be a factor.

Sure looks like they were, in the end.  Which raises the question... if UNO isn't going to be serious about Maverick Hockey, should I?

I don't have to answer that question today.  But at some point, my season ticket invoice is going to come in. Do I want to invest my money in season tickets when UNO doesn't seem to be interested in being competitive in college hockey?

That's a really tough question to ask, and it's an even tougher question to answer.  I like UNO hockey. I want it to succeed.  But it's hard to have any faith in the program right now.  This decision is really tough to swallow.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Change in Direction

You may have noticed a decrease in my blogging in recent months, and frankly, I owe my infrequent readers a bit of an explanation. The short answer is that I simply don't have as much time to do this as I once did.

I always thought after the kids got past diapers and 3 am feedings that I'd have more time. And I did...for a while. Then elementary school hit, and suddenly there were hockey and dance lessons, scouts and homework.

I tried squeezing in blogging at lunch time and after the kids went to bed. But after a while, I realized that I simply couldn't keep up the pace. It didn't help that I started to get a "writers block". Finally, I realized I had to make some choices.

And I picked my family.

So I've weaned down my blogging both here and at CornNation. I just finally accepted that I can't blog multiple times a week, work full time and take care of my family.

I'm not going away; I'll still contributing here and at CornNation. But it'll be on MY terms. Many so called "social media gurus" think you have to post frequently and regularly. They have a point, but a bigger point is that you shouldn't post when you don't have something interesting to post. People don't unfollow you because you don't post; they only unfollow you when you post things that aren't interesting.

Quality counts far more than quantity. So I'm not going to blog anymore just to meet some quota set by somebody else. I'm going to blog about what I want to say, and on my schedule.

That, in turn, means I'm going to also blog more often about non-sports topics. I'm sure some of you will tell me to "stick to sports." That's your right.

But it's my blog. I'm going to write what I want to write about. Disagree if you wish; this is still America, the last I checked. Maybe we'll have a civil conversation in the comments. Maybe even understand other perspectives instead of resorting to name calling. (Is that even possible anymore?)

The sports talk isn't going away; it's just not going to be forced.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Who Will Replace Dean Blais at UNO?

Deep down, I knew it probably was coming.  I hoped it wouldn't, but I had that feeling that Dean Blais wasn't going to return behind the bench for UNO hockey.  My emotions ran the gamut:  disappointment that he wouldn't be back, anger at the fans that turned on a coach that two years ago put UNO on the biggest stage in college hockey, gratefulness that Blais took a chance on UNO and elevated the program.

And perhaps more importantly: concerned about who will take over.  I'm sure there are more candidates out there than this, but I'll throw three names out there who should be considered...and one who absolutely should not be considered in 2017.

Mike Guentzel
I had Guentzel on my short list in 2009, and I have no reason to not put him back again in 2017. Many people have him as the heir apparent to Minnesota's Don Lucia; eight years ago, it looked like Lucia might eventually wear out his welcome in the Twin Cities, but now it looks like Lucia will be a Gopher as long as he wants.  And since Guentzel is just four years younger than Lucia, there's not much reason for Guentzel to wait if he wants to be a head coach.  Guentzel is a former Lancer head coach, and was an assistant under Blais in 2010.  His son Jake was born in Omaha (when Mike was the head Lancer), and played at UNO from 2013 through last season.  You may remember Mike's reaction in November when Jake scored his first NHL goal on his very first shift for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Hastings
Eight years ago, I thought that Hastings wasn't qualified to be the UNO head coach. I wasn't even sure he was ready to be the "heir apparent" at that point.  But I did say this at that time:
Hastings might look like the slam dunk candidate when that time comes, but for now, it's just unnecessary speculation. Especially after the absurd rumors from this past winter that Hastings would take over as UNO head coach. 
 Well, now Hastings has nine years of college experience, including four as the head coach of Minnesota State-Mankato. He's got the qualifications now.  Would he want to return to Omaha?  Who knows, but considering that Hastings was making $290,000 two seasons ago, he'd probably have to be offered more money than Dean Blais.  And that might be a tough sell given UNO's financial issues.

Cary Eades
This is an outlier name here for sure, but the connections are strong.  Eades spent 15 years as an assistant at North Dakota and has been a head coach in the USHL, winning championships with Dubuque, Sioux Falls and Fargo. He's been a winner wherever he's gone.

Now, the name who really shouldn't be considered: Mike Gabinet. Nostalgic fans remember Gabinet wearing the crimson and black from 2000 through 2004, and want the best for him.  But he's only been coaching since 2012, and up until this season, all have been in Canada. Yes, he's undefeated as a head coach, going 36-0 last season as the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology head coach.  But that's Canadian college hockey. He doesn't have the recruiting connections to college hockey.

Hockey is not like the other sports at UNO.  In the Summit League, UNO can take a chance on a young coach because the competition level just isn't there.  When South Dakota State captured the Summit League's autobid into the NCAA Tournament, the Jackrabbits were awarded a #16 seed and get to play Gonzaga in the first round.  That's where the Summit League is at; it's a low division 1 conference.

Hockey plays in the NCHC, which is arguably like the SEC was in college football. Remember when Skip Bayless tried to argue that four SEC West schools should make the college football playoff?  Well, the NCHC could actually do something close in college hockey.  The NCAA uses the PairWise rankings to select and seed the teams in the hockey tournament, and three of the top four seeds are NCHC schools:  #1 Denver, #2 Minnesota-Duluth and #4 Western Michigan.  And it's not just this season:  the NCHC has put two teams in the Frozen Four the previous two seasons as well.

You are going to throw a coach into this conference with almost no experience coaching at this level? That's simply absurd. It would be a great story if Gabinet was retained by the next UNO head coach, but if UNO has any intention of taking hockey seriously, he can't be a serious candidate.

Monday, March 13, 2017

UNO Hockey Needs Solutions, Not Scapegoats


Two years ago, UNO shocked the college hockey world by advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four. It seemed like the Mavs were on top of the world, and headed for greatness.

Well, that didn't happen.  After a hot start to the season that saw UNO ranked #1 in the nation in October, things cratered after New Years. The Mavs finished the season with eight straight losses, albeit against top ten opponents.

Sunday night, #7 Western Michigan beat UNO 2-1 in overtime to end the Mavs 2016-17 season. The UNO/Western Michigan playoff series was the only one that went three games.  Still, it was yet another season that found UNO hockey missing the conference semifinals.

Frustrating? Infuriating?  Exasperating?  Pick your emotion. But then acknowledge that it's just that: an emotional reaction.

There is real danger in reacting emotionally instead of rationally in these situations.  Should UNO hockey be better than this?  Yes.  But the real question is: how does that happen?

Eight years ago, UNO tried to get better in hockey. Hired a guy who won two national championships with North Dakota.  And UNO did get better.

But it's not good enough. Sure, UNO made the NCAA tournament in 2011 and the Frozen Four in 2015, but still hasn't made it to the conference semifinals in 2001.  That's not all on Dean Blais; the first eight go on Mike Kemp's record.  I get the frustration that Blais hasn't been able to get this program to Minneapolis.  I understand it; I share in it.

But here's my question: if Dean Blais and his resume couldn't fix UNO hockey, who can?

UNO athletics has some major problems right now, thanks to the ill-fated decision to build Baxter Arena. You know, the arena that was supposed to fix UNO's budget woes has instead magnified them. So now UNO can't offer cost of attendance scholarships and can't afford for the men's basketball team to participate in a postseason tournament.

Dean Blais ruffled feathers around Omaha by publicly raising questions about the long-term vision for the program as the season started.  Now the season is over; will Blais head off to his fishing hole in Minnesota?  And if that happens, who takes his place?

It'll be tough to find a better coach than Dean Blais, though maybe a fresh face might work. College Hockey News suggests that Mike Guentzel, a current Minnesota assistant, would be a good choice. I'd agree. But considering UNO's financial woes, Guentzel might not be interested in taking this job, especially if UNO isn't able to pay the going rate for a head coach. Don't laugh; it seems to be happening in other sports at UNO, where the trend is to promote young assistants at bargain salaries as of late. That's led to a suspicion by some that UNO will do the same thing in hockey with Mike Gabinet.

And if UNO tries to pull that stunt with their flagship sport, it might make more sense to just shut down the hockey program instead.  Seriously.  If Dean Blais couldn't fix this, how does an assistant who only has four previous years of experience in Canada fix it.  Giving the head coaching job to someone like that is basically admitting that UNO isn't even going to try anymore.

UNO needs to find solutions to their problems. Blaming Dean Blais isn't going to make things better.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Am I The Last UNO Fan Who Hasn't Given Up on Hockey?

Somehow, I get this feeling that I'm in the minority of UNO fans when I say that I'm still looking for something out of the Mavericks' hockey team this weekend. Many, it seems, have long turned the page to other sports.  The men's basketball team nearly grabbed an NCAA tournament berth in the Summit League championship game Tuesday night, losing 79-77.  It was a pretty good game to watch, but once Mike Daum buried a three point shot with a minute and a half left, the air left the Mavs' sails.

Basketball was a great story, and validates Trev Alberts' 2011 decision to move UNO up from division II to division I in all sports. They play a fast-paced exciting brand of basketball, and have pulled off their share of upsets.  (Helllloooooooooooooo Iowa!)  Now it's onto the NIT or some other postseason tournament.

That shouldn't take away from UNO's flagship sport:  hockey. UNO's horrific home record in the last year and a half since moving from the CenturyLink Center to "The Mistake" certainly is reason to doubt the future of the hockey program.  Only winning eight out of their last 28 home games raises serious questions about the building.

UNO won't be playing at Baxter Arena anymore this season.  And that's a good thing.  Weird thing is that for as bad as UNO hockey has been at home, they've been more than inversely good on the road.  That 6-10-2 home record flips to 10-5-3 when UNO leaves town.  Basically, UNO wins two out of every three games away from home.

Win two out of three? That's what UNO hockey needs to do this weekend against Western Michigan on the road.  One of those home wins was against Western Michigan a month ago, and in the other game, UNO had a lead with six minutes left before giving up two late goals to Griffen Molino.

Bottom line is that there's no reason not to think that UNO hockey can finally win a playoff series and get to the NCHC semifinals in Minneapolis. And if they get those wins, I suspect they'll move into bubble territory in the PairWise rankings with those wins over the fourth ranked Broncos.  They'll probably have to make it to the conference title game to make the NCAA tournament, but that's not out of line.  UNO has played better as of late against tough competition ever since Dean Blais started benching upperclassmen who were coasting along this season.  Except for a lousy first period two weeks ago against North Dakota, UNO has looked like a tournament hockey team.

And if they do that this week, they'll move on.  And who knows what happens after that.  Win and advance.

I haven't given up.  Neither should you.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Husker Fans Shouldn't Blame 2016's Collapse on Talent

The recruitniks were out in force in December and January, trying to pin the blame on Nebraska's 2-4 finish to the season on the overall incompetence of the previous staff. It's easy to do, because the results were painful and the people they point fingers at are long gone.  Bad coaches who did bad recruiting, leaving the program in such a sorry state, Mike Riley was a miracle worker getting this team to nine wins while having to rebuild the program from the ashes.

Unfortunately that's like an InfoWars sports report.  Totally #fakeNews.

Billy Devaney, who was hired by Mike Riley to help provide additional oversight and guidance on the football program said talent wasn't an issue, except against Ohio State.  Every other game, Nebraska should have been able to compete better.  Here's what Devaney told Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star last week:
"Wisconsin, obviously, was a pretty balanced team, but it was a good matchup. The Iowa game, that was bullsh--. There was no way in the world that should have happened.
"Even Tennessee, yeah, they were athletic. But I thought there were other places that we should've competed better, where we matched up well. Ohio State was the only game where I thought we were in trouble, where the talent gap was noticeable."
Recruitniks don't want to hear it, but the words and actions of North Stadium mean so much more than your own conclusions. Two coordinators with long-standing ties to Mike Riley:  fired.  A clear message has been sent by Mike Riley:  Now that I'm here in Lincoln, what was "good enough" at Oregon State simply isn't "good enough" at Nebraska.

Think I'm making this up?  Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald talked to Dan Van De Reit, Riley's assistant athletic director of football operations:
There’s been one major difference from OSU: the head coach. Riley’s dismissal of three coaches in two seasons, and his urgency in landing defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, is a side few saw at Oregon State.
For good reason, Van De Riet said.
“Coach Riley has always been one of the most competitive guys I know,” Van De Riet said. “With expectations come hard decisions. We were at a place for so long where a bowl game was fine.
“Those decisions are hard. I don’t know if at Oregon State if that was necessary. You win seven games, six, go to a bowl game, the fans are happy. The goal there was to get to a bowl game, because they hadn’t had one.
“I’ve been impressed with the way he’s not only been aware of the expectations but how he’s managed those expectations. He’s set the bar to what he feels it’s going to take to win.”
"I don't know if at Oregon State if that was necessary."  Read that quote again.  And again.

Maybe Mike Riley has been slow to truly accept it, but it's becoming clear that Riley recognizes that what he did at Oregon State (which wasn't really working anyway, if you ask people there) isn't going to work at Nebraska.

Want more evidence that Mike Riley isn't exactly sold on his staff? The assistants he kept got contract extensions, but several (Danny Langsdorf, Mike Cavanaugh, Reggie Davis and Keith Williams) didn't get raises.  Williams' situation was exacerbated by his August DUI; otherwise, he'd be deserving of a nice raise. The other three offensive assistants? If you really think that winning nine games last year was a masterful job of coaching (especially on offense), you'd think Riley would reward them with their new contracts.

Especially with the avalanche of cash that the Big Ten's new television deal will be bringing in.  Thanks to Nebraska's buy-in period to the Big Ten Network coming to completion, I believe the Huskers will see an increase of up to 150% in revenues, from about $22 million to over $50 million a season.  Nebraska seems to be planning to use the revenue bump judiciously.  Spending more money to bring in a highly regarded defensive coordinator like Mike Diaco? Reward Trent Bray and John Parella for their good work? Open the checkbook.

Spending more money on coaches who were underperforming at Oregon State?  The checkbook stays closed. Maybe Mike Riley isn't quite ready to press that eject button yet on underperforming coaches like offensive line assistant Mike Cavanaugh, but he's clearly not going all-in either.  Perhaps only to promote staff consistency; let's blow up the defense and do it right this time, but leave the offense alone for now.

Truth be told, I've been more concerned about the offense than the defense, but Riley may have no choice but to stay the course since there aren't any dual-threat quarterbacks (other than Zach Darlington) left in the program.  The whole notion that Nebraska football should jettison the migration towards single-threat pro-style quarterbacks with two freshmen and a mid-major transfer waiting anxiously in the wings certainly sounds blasphemous to those that anxiously awaited (and loudly herald) their arrival.  But I'm unconvinced that this is the right direction for Nebraska to aim offensively when you consider the evolution of modern college spread offenses combined with the lack of success Riley's offense found in recent years in Corvallis.  (Not to mention the lack of success of Tanner Lee at Tulane.)

Be careful what you wish for... you just might get it.