Saturday, February 16, 2008

Shatel: Time to Grow UNO Hockey

Last night, UNO had a nice 5-3 win over Bowling Green to just about lock up home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Unfortunately, Notre Dame beat Alaska 2-1, so Notre Dame's magic number over UNO is now 1, meaning that Notre Dame only needs 1 more win or 1 UNO loss to clinch fourth in the CCHA. The top four seeds get first round byes (and home ice in the second round), which makes the difference between fourth and fifth huge.

If things carry on as they appear they will, UNO will finish fifth in the CCHA for the third straight year. And while it's nice to finish in the upper half of the conference, that "fifth place ceiling" is starting to become an albatross to the program. Not that there aren't some explanations that can come into play: two years ago, all-American Scott Parse got injured late in the season. And this season, defensement Juha Uotila missed the first half of the season due to academic issues. But when so many explanations are necessary, they come off as excuses to some.

Which raises the question as to what UNO wants out of it's hockey program. Is UNO happy to finish fifth in the conference year after year? After the turmoil of the Nancy Belck era, one might say yes. But that period is over. Finally today, Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald finally gave us the answer:

No.

Shatel talked to UNO chancellor John Christensen who finally gave us an authoritative statement of where UNO hockey should be:
"My vision for the hockey program is to have them compete for the conference championship on a regular basis. And peridically, compete for a national championship. That's the same for all of our sports. I don't want to waiver from that. We have to take the next step. Mike (Kemp) understands that. We want to be in the top four, playing for the league championship, in the next three seasons. We need to feel we have arrived in that top group."
Harsh words for Kemp? Nothing that some fans haven't said. UNO is close, but UNO needs to take the next step. Up until 3 years ago, the difference between fourth and fifth was neglibile. Now with the playoff format the CCHA uses, getting to fourth place is HUGE. And once again, UNO is going to fall just short of it.

Last year, Michigan State finished fourth in the CCHA, and went on a roll. They swept UNO in the playoffs, then steamrolled everybody else and won the national championship. Fourth is the next step in the program... it gets you into position to win conference championships. It gets you into position for the NCAA tourament. It's huge. It's where UNO needs to be if the program is to grow.

Last night's game got bumped to the Civic Auditorium, the original home of UNO hockey. Many of UNO's greatest moments in hockey occurred there. The World-Herald revisited the famed Bowling Green play-in game from 2000, now referred to as simply "Tuesday Night". The joint was rocking that night. That's the magic that UNO hockey needs to find again. But that magic wasn't the Civic. UNO returned to the Civic last night, and only drew 5100. The Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights spent two years there, and finally gave up. That building is not the future of UNO's hockey program, it's it's ghost.

UNO hockey needs to get back to the Joe. It needs to start making NCAA tournament appearances. That will get UNO hockey back into the mindset of Omaha sports fans.

Chancellor Christensen says it:
"Look at what Creighton did. If we take the next step as a program, we can grow in that building."
Amen!

3 comments:

AJ said...

The SECOND enough money is collected to buy out Mike Kemp...do it.

Good guy, mediocre coach. Medicore doesn't cut it for me anymore.

Husker Mike said...

I have a different definition of "mediocre". UNO and Kemp is a step above mediocre in my book. But I would agree that UNO needs something more.

hackermav said...

I know it not necessarily a fair comparison, but Pat Behrns is the most logical comparison to Kemp.

UNO FB has been consistently good since Behrns took over, only his first 2 years were sub .500. He consistently puts out a good product, and then fails in the playoffs. That is what I would consider a above average coach.

Kemp has not been able to put out the same consistency that Behrns has to date, 5 winning seasons in 10 with 2007-8 to be decided this weekend. And Kemp has had the same mixed bag of results in the playoffs, the magical run and then nothing since then.

And I don't want to hear the excuses anymore, the 11 year old program, the hockey in a football state (6th in attendance?), defections/injuries, blah blah blah.

I feel it is perfectly understandable for Christensen to be in a position to tell Kemp (and Behrns) put up or shut up. 'We haven't helped you much over the last few years (admin), but we have righted our side of things and now you need to provide results as well.'

If Kemp or Behrns cannot take the next step in the next 2-3 years it is time to make a change.