Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Night Dessert: What a Weekend of Hockey

If you aren't a fan of hockey, this weekend was a great opportunity to become better acquainted with the sport. Today's Olympic gold medal game will likely go down as an all-time classic; Team USA denying Canada the gold medal they covet when Zach Parise scored with under 25 seconds left in the third period to send the game into overtime, shocking the home team that had already started to celebrate.  But Sidney Crosby, who had flubbed and floundered throughout the Olympics, became a national hero by beating Ryan Miller to reclaim the gold.

Interesting to note that both Miller and Parise both have a local connection as well.  In 2001, UNO chased Miller from goal in a sweep of Michigan State at the Civic Auditorium.  Parise, meanwhile, played for North Dakota and current UNO head coach Dean Blais.

No matter how disappointed Americans have to be in the finish of the game, you had to appreciate the love of country shown when 20,000 Canadians sang "O Canada!" at the top of their lungs at the medal ceremony.  Think that would ever happen here?  I kind of doubt it.

Back to local hockey, UNO came up short on Friday night, losing to #6 Bemidji State 3-1, with an empty netter sealing the game in the final seconds.  UNO dominated about half the game on Friday night, but couldn't crack Beaver goalie Dan Bakala to make the Quantum Leap into Pairwise consideration.  UNO did win last night to move back to 18th place, which is striking distance for an at-large bid.  Friday night, UNO looked like the faster, more talented team ... but Bemidji played a tactical game and simply didn't make any mistakes, frustrating the Mavs much of the way.  They're simply an outstanding, well-coached team; you can see how they made that surprising Frozen Four run last season.

Next up for UNO is Bowling Green; how fitting that the Pervs are the final CCHA team to play a series in Omaha.  Whether it's Tuesday Night, the Sharpie incident, Scott Hewson, the blizzard of 2007, or the ineligible player in this season's shootout, wacky things just seem to happen when the Road Cones come to town.  UNO will need to take care of business this weekend, and then likely face Ferris State again.  If they can pull that off, UNO might be in striking distance in the Pairwise...but might just need to win it all to get a berth in the Big Skate later in March.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dean Blais Talks National Championship for UNO

Dean Blais sat down with the Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel and compared his first three years at North Dakota with his expectations for his first three years at UNO: 
“When I took over at North Dakota, the first year we were .500. The second year, we were about six, seven games above .500. The third year, we won the national championship. I could see the same thing here.''
That's not a prediction mind you...but when you consider the history of UNO...that's heady stuff.  But to this casual observer of UNO hockey, I wouldn't put that past Blais to pull this off.  UNO has bounced back strong from a horrible December and early January to finish the CCHA schedule 7-2-1 in the final ten games.  Oh, they swept Michigan...and even knocked number 1 Miami out of the top spot in both polls.  All that conditioning is coming into place, and like last year in Fargo, Blais has his team ready to challenge at the end of the season.

First step is tomorrow night against #5 Bemidji State; get a win or two, and suddenly things start looking awfully interesting for UNO fans.  It's already an exciting time to be a UNO fan; Trev Alberts finishing the details on plans to build a new on-campus arena.  Blais having the hockey program in an upward trajectory.  Next season, the Mavs join the WCHA which brings new opponents who find it an easier drive to Omaha.

Who'd have thunk all that one year ago?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Night Beer: MSNBC Hits Ratings Peak with USA/Canada

If you missed Sunday night's USA/Canada Olympic hockey game, shame on you...unless you don't get MSNBC, of course. Yes, I know some people don't "get" hockey...but that doesn't stop most people from watching luge, ski cross, or curling when it's Olympic time.  It was a classic game; with great action right from the opening face-off (The USA scored in the opening minute), and the unbelievable final four minutes as Canada tried to fight back.  The game was MSNBC's second most watched program ever.  Some people point to the higher rankings of ice dancing on NBC as proof that the Peacock network made the right call, but you are comparing apples and oranges.  Many people were unaware where the game was being broadcast; I've even heard from hockey fans who thought these games would be on the NHL Network.  I also wouldn't be surprised if some people refused to watch any programming on the network that brings you Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

KOZN radio's Kevin Kugler is working the Olympics for Westwood One, and he reported today that in his conversations with other American reporters, many people expect Nebraska to be a prime target of the Big Ten if they pursue expansion.  Just idle rumor and speculation, mind you, but if Notre Dame and Texas aren't interested, Nebraska is the biggest name on the list.  Yes, Nebraska doesn't bring local media markets to the Big Ten, but they do bring a national following in football that enhances rather than waters down the total package.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviewed Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, who suggests that fifteen schools are on the Big Ten's list.  (H/T: Lincoln Journal-Star)  The rumor mill suggests that Nebraska is in the upper tier of that list, for what it's worth.

It's official, Rickey Thenarse got his medical redshirt and will be eligible to play for the Huskers this fall.  He's still rehabbing the injury, and estimates he's about 90% recovered.  I found it interesting that the doctors are taking his rehab slowly, holding him back.  Good move, considering the track record last year with rushing basketball player Christopher Niemann and quarterback Kody Spano back last summer, only to have the ACL fail again.  I'd like to see how Thenarse worked on the mental aspects of the game while he was on crutches; he's always had the physical tools, just needs to put it together on the field.

Hopefully he spent some of his time watching Matt O'Hanlon who showed that the mental aspects of the game are almost as important as the physical aspects.  O'Hanlon has his eyes set on playing in the NFL, and I wouldn't put it past him.  He probably won't get drafted, but someone will give him a shot, and he'll make the most of it.  He might only be on the practice squad, but I think he'll stick eventually.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

UNO Upsets #1 Miami

Last night's 4-2 victory over #1 Miami was a huge boost to UNO hockey as they wind down the regular season, and starts setting the stage for an interesting, perhaps exciting, finish to the season.  Last week, named UNO the team of the week following the Mavs sweep of Michigan, and the accolades should only increase this week.  Look for Alex Hudson to get yet more ink this week; he had two goals Friday night and added two assists on Saturday night.

UNO's 7-2-1 push down the stretch has put the Mavs in position to make some noise in March.  They've clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs, and more importantly, if they win a first round series, they should avoid a rematch with the Miami Redhawks.  In the CCHA standings, it's a muddled mess between 2nd place and 10th.  Only 13 points (essentially 4 games) separate #2 Ferris State and #10 Notre Dame, meaning that there aren't any assurances in the postseason.  This season, a hot team will make some noise, and nobody's hotter than UNO.

Last night's victory also jumped the Mavs to a tie for 18th place in the PairWise rankings, which emulate the NCAA's criteria for selecting and seeding the 16 team tournament.  They're still on the outside at this point, but the next few games give UNO a chance to make up some ground...starting this weekend.

When UNO scheduled Bemidji State for this weekend, I'm sure nobody expected this series to mean anything other than padding out the schedule.  All of a sudden, Bemidji and UNO are preparing to enter the WCHA next season, and Bemidji suddenly is a national power after last season's surprise Frozen Four run.  The Beavers currently sit in fifth place in the Pairwise, meaning that UNO gets a chance to enhance their resume if they can pull off some wins this weekend.  Win this weekend, and make it to the CCHA semifinals in Detroit, and UNO might just find themselves in NCAA tournament consideration.  That makes this weekend's games huge for UNO.

When UNO hired Dean Blais last summer, this is exactly what I expected...a team that would make a run late in the season, and would take UNO to the next level.  Fasten your seat belts, Omaha.  UNO is cleared for takeoff.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Post Sabbatical Wrapup - Part 2

A few more odds-and-ends from the notebook:

While the other Husker blogs obsessed about recruiting, they completely missed the biggest story from two weeks ago...and it wasn't good news either.  Zac Lee's injury will keep him sidelined at the start of spring practice, and maybe all spring.  Definitely not good news for a Husker offense that sputtered against BCS conference competition; this offense needs work, and reps from the best players.  And whether you like it or not, Zac Lee is Nebraska's best quarterback.  I think it's clear that Lee's injury affected his play last season (remember those underthrows of Niles Paul late in the season?); does a healthy Lee hit Paul in stride?  The only good news is that it gives Cody Green a chance to do some serious development and work on poise and better touch and accuracy on his throws.  We know Green has the wheels, but can he develop his arm to become a true dual-threat quarterback?  This spring, he'll have the opportunity.

Speaking of the spring game...over 50,000 tickets were sold in the first week.  A quick check of shows that currently the best seats available are more than half-way up the north end zone...meaning that if you don't make a decision soon to buy tickets, it might be too late.  A bigger question might be...will some of this snow still be on the ground in mid-April?

Funny how people who use all the snow here as proof that global warming is a "scam" ignore the record warmth in British Columbia that has forced the organizers of the Olympics to truck in snow.  Before people read too much into that statement, let me simply say that neither situation is proof one way or the other as to whether the Earth is warming or cooling; it's just one winter of varying weather worldwide.

Did anybody else watching Dan Patrick's "interview" of three female US skiers during the Olympic opening ceremonies get the feeling they were watching a middle-aged guy trying to pick up college coeds in a bar?  The best description I could come up with was to call it "creepy" at best.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Post Sabbatical Wrapup - Part 1

A few notes that have been building up over the last few weeks:

The Brion Carnes and Owamagbe Odighizuwa situations highlight the pointlessness of the recruiting speculation that obsesses too many people during hockey season.  Bo Pelini called out bloggers, and while they joined in the mess, the real blame goes to the pay sites.  In the Carnes situation, I wonder if the Western Kentucky story wasn't actually a diversion or practical joke to see who would bite.  High school students don't have an obligation to tell anybody other than college coaches the truth.  Some fans were put off by the Carnes misinformation, but the misinformation was fed to the recruitiniks, not to the coaches.  For the rest of us frankly, it's none of our dang business.  Owa wants to attend a school closer to home in Los Angeles?  Best of luck to him if he thinks that's the place for him.

HuggingHaroldReynolds brings us the sad case of Harrison Beck (H/T to BigRedNetwork), the one time 4-star savior of Nebraska football who went on to flame out in Lincoln and at NC State before finally finding his rightful place at division II North Alabama.  The recruiting services probably did a fine job of rating Beck's physical skills...but totally ignored his immaturity.  Oh, it was all there for the taking; all you had to do was read his KETV-Channel 7 blog and his interviews as a high school senior to realize that he thought he had more game than he really did.  Here's the big deal in my mind:  he's done with football now, and I wonder, is he ready for life after football?

Nebraska basketball got absolutely blasted by Texas yesterday.  Not good at all, but considering the depth of the Big XII this season (4 teams in the Top 25 and 2 more just outside) and the relative inexperience on the court, it's not all that surprising.  Yesterday's game was bad, but this team did lead Kansas in the 2nd half as well as Baylor.  I'm willing to give Doc Sadler more time to figure things out; he's shown the ability to put teams together out of nothing.

With the state budget in disarray thanks to the prolonged economic recession, talk about hitting up the state to pay for the Sarpy County boondoggle stadium has died out.  So it's not a surprise that Sarpy County is planning a county-wide sales tax.  Of course, they're saying it's not for the ballpark.  Of course not.  But I'm reminded of the classic Dilbert story about the guy who got caught in a rainstorm while on a business trip.  The finance department rejected paying for an umbrella when he submitted his expense report, saying that an umbrella is a personal item and couldn't be claimed on his expense report.  So on his next expense report, he attached a note to the bottom report, challenging the finance department to "Now find the umbrella!"  Yes, I know I'm being cynical here, but has Sarpy County ever come out and admitted how they were going to pay for the stadium.  Say what you will about the process former Mayor Mike Fahey used to get the downtown stadium built, but at least he did it in the open.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Red Berenson, You Ignorant $lut

The UNO Mavericks finished off their CCHA home schedule in fine fashion this weekend with a sweep of Michigan.  Last night, UNO reeled off three first period goals to take the lead for the weekend, prompting Wolverine head coach Red Berenson to issue the challenge last night:
"It's one of those nights," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "(Goalie Bryan) Hogan made some good saves to keep us close. We had our chances and we didn't capitalize on them. We've got some bouncing back to do, no question. We saw their best and they didn't see our best."
 'Ol Red might want to revise that quote, because the Mavs came out buzzing tonight and led 4-0 before the Weasels finally broke up the John Faulkner shutout bid in the closing minutes to make the final 4-1.  Dan Swanson iced the game in the third period, scoring twice in 23 seconds on odd-man rushes to break the game wide open.

The sweep launched the Mavs into fourth place in the CCHA after winning seven of their last eight games.  Fourth place would give UNO a first round bye and home ice in the second round, but it's unlikely the Mavs can hold onto that spot.  UNO faces #1 Miami next weekend on the road to close out the CCHA schedule for the Mavs, meaning additional points are going to be very tough to get.  That's going to give the teams trailing UNO an opportunity to move up the standings, especially when you consider that UNO and Alaska play non-conference games the final weekend of February while the rest of the CCHA plays more league games.  With three points up for grabs in each game, even 10th place Notre Dame could push past UNO if they win out and UNO gets swept in Oxford.

That disputed shootout point from the Bowling Green series in November is looming larger than ever.

In a footnote, Meghan Agosta, the little sister of UNO forward Jeric Agosta, scored a hat trick tonight for Team Canada in their opening game of the Olympics, defeating Slovakia 18-0.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

It's National Signing Day Again!

Yep, it's time once again for that annual train wreck:  national signing day when recruiting 'experts' pontificate about the wonders of potential college football superstars, and how this date can make or break a football program.  The only problem is that it's mostly bullshit.  (Pardon the language.)

Don't get me wrong; recruiting is important.  But recruiting analysis puts the anal back in analysis.  Remember five years ago and all the hype about Bill Callahan's class?  If not for Ndamukong Suh, you'd have to place that class as a huge dud.  It never lived up to the hype, and frankly, never stood a chance.

Some will simply dismiss my criticism as mere sour grapes and point out how recruiting has turned teams like Southern Cal and Texas into elite teams in college football.  They have a point; Texas and USC have become factories for producing top college players and they're among the elite teams in college football.  Slight problem with that analysis is that USC and Texas have always been amongst the elite teams in terms of recruiting; it wasn't recruiting that made USC and Texas great, it was the coaching staffs that finally took those perennial highly rated classes into highly regarded football teams.  (I'd throw Florida into that mix as well; don't forget how Florida suffered under Ron Zook on the field...)

But what's the harm of this week's excess of recruiting coveragePlenty.  It fosters a sense of entitlement and creates an ego in high school kids who simply can't be prepared to deal with the circus that recruiting brings them.  In some cases, they simply can't live up to the hype, and bounce around, such as Harrison Beck, who finally found success in Division II football after failing at Nebraska and North Carolina State.  At it's worst case, it could lead a player down the path to depression or worse when they fail to meet the expectations laid out for them, such as what happened to Marlon Lucky in the spring of 2007.

So will Owamagbe Odighizu or Corey Cooper sign with Nebraska this week?  Don't know, and to a small extent, don't care.  Maybe they are legitimate players; it seems the coaching staffs feel they are.  But I have no way of knowing, and frankly, it's not my decision.  They need to make the best choice for them and their goals in life, whether that's playing football at Nebraska or elsewhere.  I especially worry that fans are expecting Owa to be Suh 2.0, if only because they share hometowns and names that Harry Caray could never get right.

So it's time to sign off for another recruiting sabbatical, shutting off the noise of the worst week of the year in college football.  If you are looking for something productive to do this week in lieu of wasting time on recruiting, try to grab some of the remaining tickets for the UNO/Ohio State hockey game this Friday night.  Less than 2500 tickets remain; they might yet pull this off.  Even if they don't, getting 13,000 or 14,000 into the Qwest Center should make for an entertaining night of hockey.  Certainly a lot more enjoyable than watching press conferences, or even worse, eating rubber chicken at a recruiting banquet.