Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trev Alberts One Ups the Gophers with Blais Extension

In light of Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi's declaration of interest in Dean Blais, UNO quickly moved to extend Blais' contract for two additional years. Standard policy in college athletics:  hot, desirable coach starts getting feelers from other programs, and the coach gets a contract extension.  In this case, the extension is well deserved.  At the end of the season, UNO was playing about as well as anybody in college hockey.  Does it mean an end of Blais/Minnesota talk?  Only for 2010. If Don Lucia gets fired in Minnesota (some would argue "when Lucia gets fired"), Blais is sure to be on the Gophers short list.

And when that happens, the onus is on Trev Alberts to make UNO a more desirable job.  UNO won't be able to match the tradition of Minnesota in hockey or the lure of Blais' alma mater. But UNO can offer Blais the opportunity to build a program to a premier level.  UNO is putting the pieces into place to keep Blais: facilities and a support staff that might be enough to convince Blais to stay put. Especially once he feels that he's close to making it happen in Omaha.

As Trev Alberts said last week, it's a good thing to have others interested in your coach.  That means you've got the right people in place.  The trick is keeping them, and Trev Alberts is doing things exactly right.

One year ago today, UNO athletics was drifting aimlessly.  David Miller had just resigned to go to Upper Iowa, and the program was adrift and lacking a direction.  My oh my how things have changed in one year.

Props to Alberts for getting this done to put this issue to bed for now. It's not going to go away, no matter how much 14 "defenders of the faith" try to ignore or wish it away. It's likely to emerge in the future, but I have faith that Alberts is up to the challenge of making it difficult for Dean Blais to be lured away.

(Side note to the Maniac in Section 14:  Name calling is against your own "terms of service", and frankly, trying to pretend that the reports coming out of the media in Minneapolis weren't real makes you look as goofy and out of touch as the folks over at BigRedBored. Their blind allegiance to Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan caused them to be completely oblivious to the impending train wreck. Don't keep making the same mistake and attempt to be the "savior of the program" by thinking you can wish things away.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Checking Out the Lancers - Back In Omaha

Last night, I checked out my first Lancer game in years.  In the early to middle 90's, I was a season ticket holder until UNO, my alma mater, started the hockey program. I had a lot of great memories at Ak-Sar-Ben watching the Lancers during that time, but the Mavs stole my interest.  I attended a few games after that, but none since Ak-Sar-Ben closed down. Not sure how to explain it, but perhaps that Missouri River bridge was a psychological barrier. I just didn't have much of a desire to head over to the Mid-America Center, even if parking was free.  Seems that a lot of area hockey fans had similar opinions, as attendance plummeted in recent years.

Now the Lancers are back in Omaha, now at the Civic Auditorium.  The Lancers have made a few upgrades to the Civic, namely a replay board that obstructs the view from the upper deck on the ends.  It doesn't matter for the Lancers, as the Civic in this configuration can easily handle a crowd of 6,000 fans, like they did last night. I'm surprised how little has changed with the Lancers over the years.  Glenn Frey's "The Heat is On" still plays on the PA after each goal, and the fans still do the Arsenio Hall fist pump at the completion.  Eddie still does his victory lap around the arena.  Didn't see Skunkman or Dancin' Dave, and Fred Brooks is now working in Atlanta.

The success the Lancers are finding in their return to Omaha makes for an interesting contrast as the Royals prepare to leave Omaha for western Sarpy County. Several times last week, I heard updates about the progress of BFE Stadium and making subtle observations to minimize just how far away from Omaha it is. Managing partner Alan Stein was on local sports radio mentioning that it's just "two minutes" to the interstate.  (Well, maybe...if you take a few liberties with the speed limit and don't get stopped at any lights.  Maybe speed traps are now part of the funding plan to pay for the stadium?)  It's "only 11 minutes to drive from the stadium to I-680 and Dodge."  (Last night, it took me 13 minutes to drive from the Qwest Center/TD Ameritrade Park area to I-680 and Dodge, and that's considered "too inconvenient" for west Omaha families on weeknights...)  There's discussion about all the family friendly amenities that are sure to be developed around the new ballpark that will help the Royals draw families.  (I guess no families around here bother to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo...)

The new stadium may turn out to be a success for the Royals in the end; they've already announced plans to increase season ticket prices from $300/$400 at Rosenblatt to a range of $561 to $1340 in BFE.  So even if attendance doesn't increase (which might be tough in a stadium with only 6,000 seats), they still can benefit from the higher ticket prices.  But deep down, I wonder if the residents of Papillion and Gretna will be able to compensate for the inevitable loss of fans from inside the Omaha city limits.

The Lancers found out the hard way the price of leaving Omaha, especially after they tried to change the name of the team.  Are we watching a repeat of that same mistake?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Night Beer: Pucks are Flying While Cinderella Is Crashing in Hoops

Last night's Kansas State/Xavier game was one of those games you wish would have been played on Friday night instead of Thursday.  You couldn't shut it off, no matter how early your alarm clock was set.  I mean... three point shots raining down from Provo?  Double overtime?  Gus Johnson on the call for CBS?  The only thing I forgot to do was check out the Live Thread over at  (My favorite was when they blamed the overtimes on interference by fans at Buffalo Wild Wings...)

Tonight, on the other hand, not much to stay up for, and no need to since Purdue/Duke will be over before midnight in the eastern timezone.  Baylor finished off St. Mary's so soon that Omaha's own Kevin Kugler tweeted at halftime that his broadcast wouldn't get much coverage in the second half.  Oh sure, Northern Iowa made it interesting for a little while.

The NCAA hockey tournament got started today, and #2 Denver made a quick exit. The Rochester Institute of Technology defeated the Pioneers 2-1 tonight in Albany in a shocker.  Why a shocker?  RIT doesn't award any scholarships in hockey.  In other games involving UNO's former and future conference foes, St. Cloud State defeated Northern Michigan 4-3 in double overtime.  SCSU will play Wisconsin tomorrow night for a Frozen Four berth.  Tomorrow, Boston College plays Alaska, followed by Alabama-Huntsville vs. Miami.  Then North Dakota vs. Yale followed by Bemidji vs. Michigan.  Maybe it's sour grapes, but UNO played with all those teams late in the season.  All I can mutter is the Cub fan's typical response:  "Wait until next year..."

As I expected, the battle over has now become a legal matter.  The only surprise to me is the size of the monetary investment involved, though maybe it shouldn't after I think about it.  Earlier this month, the Journal-Star reported that HuskerPedia grosses $1.5 million in revenue.  Which way is this going to go next?  This one bears watching.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Night Beer: An Internet Idiot and His Bracket

Well, my NCAA basketball bracket isn't looking very hot.  I thought the Big XII would put forth a better performance than they have so far, but I don't think I was alone in thinking Kansas would at least survive the first weekend.  Still might have a chance if Kentucky wins it all, though.

I still think March Madness is perhaps the greatest televised sporting event in America today.  In this age of digital cable and talk of expanding the tournament, I worry that this might be CBS' last year to televise the tournament.  Which would be a shame because I fear what ESPN might do to the tournament, especially in light of ESPN's obligations to carry women's basketball, wrestling, hockey, and the NBA.  CBS has mastered the art of rotating fans around between games, yet keeping fans on games of local interest.  I don't think ESPN can match it, especially with satellite subscribers.

After UNO's loss in the second round of the CCHA playoffs, we knew that Maverick hockey season was over, but it turns out UNO was a little closer than I thought.  UNO finished the season in a three-way tie for 20th place in the Pairwise; no where close enough to an at-large spot, but closer than I thought they would be.  Conspiracy theorists will be watching Michigan this weekend; the concerns about filling Ford Field for the Frozen Four likely disappear if the Weasels win the Midwest Region.  I'd be skeptical if Miami lets the Red's gang knock them out for the second week in a row.  (And yes, I'm assuming that Miami will beat Alabama-Huntsville.)  Speaking of which, what a story that would be if Huntsville makes some noise in the NCAA tournament without having a conference home to play in next season?  When UNO jumped to the WCHA last summer, it was assumed at the time that Alabama-Huntsville would replace UNO, but concerns about the viability of Bowling Green led the CCHA to hold back.  For the Chargers, the future is now.

KSTP's Patrick Reusse (1500 AM in Minneapolis) raised a bit of a stir this weekend by tweeting about rumors that Minnesota was thinking about firing Don Lucia and hiring UNO head coach Dean Blais.  For what it's worth, it would be hard to blame Blais for returning to his alma mater, but it wouldn't be good for UNO after only one season.  While it's still a rumor at this point (Lucia still has a job), the rumor mill was running quite strong in Minneapolis this weekend at the WCHA Final Five.  Trev Alberts was asked about the situation, and felt flattered that that UNO's hockey coach was the subject of these rumors.  Until Lucia is actually fired, it's just speculation, but it's pretty clear that it's more than just "internet idiots" talking about it. (Yes, I'm looking at you SpamMania.  Before you start labeling people as "idiots", at least get your source straight.  The idiot might turn out to be the guy in the mirror...)

When word about Tiger Woods returning at the Masters first came out, I worried that the Woods situation would turn Augusta into a three-ring circus.  Then ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd mentioned how particular Augusta National is with how the Masters is covered, and realized I have nothing to fear.  This is the institution that banned Gary McCord fifteen years ago for mentioning that the greens were "bikini waxed".  When Martha Burk protested Augusta National in 2003, the Masters were televised commercial free by Augusta National rather than allow sponsors to be pressured.  Television contracts are granted on a year-to-year basis, so frankly, the only way Tiger Woods is going to be the focus of attention that week once the tournament gets started, it's because he's playing well.  And that's the way it should be.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Night Green Beer: Is NCAA Wrestling a Better Deal for Omaha Than Basketball?

Funny thing is about to occur in Omaha over the next three days:  the NCAA is bringing a national championship event to Omaha, and except for a few blips in the World-Herald, there's no buzz about it locally.  Too bad, because there are about 15,000 people spending the next few days in town.  The event is sold out and apparently 80% of the tickets are from folks out of town; that means the hotels and restaurants in Omaha will be busy.  Yesterday, the Wisconsin team bus passed me downtown, so they're in town.  (It's almost a stereotype, but shortly after the bus passed, it smelled just like a bratwurst.  Is it possible to power a bus on brat drippings?)

If you ask me, an event like the NCAA Wrestling championship is a bigger coup for Omaha and MECA than getting the NCAA basketball tournament.  Wrestling brings visitors in from out of town and increases tourism.  Basketball merely lines the pockets of greedy Creighton fans who hoard and scalp tickets.

Speaking of Creighton fan, they had to play their CTI game at the Civic Auditorium since the Qwest Center was being set up for NCAA wrestling.  So how did they get their devoted fans that pack the Qwest Center to squeeze into the much smaller Civic?  Turns out that wasn't an issue; only 4,348 tickets were sold, and even fewer bothered to show up.  To quote UNO's Red Army: 
"Oooh!  Ahhh!  Smaller than a Knights Crowd!"
Meanwhile, there's talk that the NCAA might expand the basketball tournament to 96 teams.  Is that a good deal or a bad deal?  It depends on how they choose to play the additional games.  I'm not sure there's a good case to be made that the teams that missed the cut have a realistic chance to make an impact on the tournament.  Adding those teams just waters down the tournament, but the impact could be lessened if the additional 32 games are condensed into one day.  Take all 8 first round sites, and put them all in use with 7 or 8 games going on simultaneously.  Let CBS have a field day blipping you from game to game; certainly there's going to be at least one game that's going to be interesting to watch.  Then take the 64 remaining teams and play them on Friday and Saturday, filling the whole day with basketball.  Finally, consolidate the former second round games onto Sunday into 5 time slots starting at 11 am and going all evening.

Don't make the same mistake the BCS made by stretching the tournament out.  Fans don't really want those weekend games moved to Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  Give fans a reason to pay attention to those additional 32 "opening round" or "play in" games by jamming them into one day and turning it into a smorgasbord of basketball excess.  (Remember what New Years Day used to be like before the BCS stretched out the bowl season over a whole week?)  That might make a 96 team tournament palatable.

Probably won't happen, because this plan might only add two or three timeslots for the networks to sell ads.  ESPN or CBS probably would prefer to drag it out as long as possible.  Heck, let's spread the first round over the entire weekend, and just drag it out... play the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend.  Good for fans?  Hardly, but that seems to be the fashion in this sports economy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Day of Duds for Omaha & Nebraska Sports

After dropping game one last night, the UNO hockey team took Ferris State to overtime, only to have the season end :23 seconds into overtime, losing 3-2.  UNO fans got their hopes up with the Mavs hot streak over the last six weeks, but the streak came crashing to a halt with the loss.  The loss drops UNO to 22nd in the PairWise, effectively eliminating UNO's hopes for an NCAA tournament berth.

It certainly was a fun ride in recent weeks, but the loss doesn't dampen the optimism about the future of the program.  Lots of good young players return next season:  Terry Broadhurst, Brandon Richardson, Alex Hudson, and John Faulkner for starters.  They know what to expect this offseason and will be ready for the Dean Blais system much faster next season.  UNO will miss seniors Eddie DelGrosso, Mark Bernier, and Dan Swanson next season, but I think Blais will find more than adequate replacements.  Disappointed with the loss and the end of the season, but I'm even more optimistic about the future of UNO hockey.

Right after that, UNO's men's basketball season ended with a 75-71 loss to Tarleton State in the first round of the NCAA Division II basketball tournament.  The one bright spot is the wrestling team won their second straight national championship today over at the Sapp Fieldhouse.  That's five out of the last seven years; now THAT'S an accomplishment.

This afternoon, Nebraska's women's basketball team suffered their first loss of the season as Texas A&M beat Nebraska 80-70 in the semifinals of the Big XII tournament.  Nebraska's season will continue in the NCAA tournament next weekend, but now the question is whether the Lady Huskers will hang onto a #1 seed.  Heck of a run though for Connie Yori's group.

Ah well, the sun will come up tomorrow...even if it'll likely be cloudy all day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How 'bout Dat: Huskers Beat Mizzou in KC

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the demise of the Husker basketball season this afternoon were greatly exaggerated.  After the last week, it's easy to see why most folks didn't give Nebraska much of a chance...but to tell you the truth, tracking the score from work, I wasn't completely surprised by the early parts of the game.  As I admitted earlier, I haven't watched a lot of Husker basketball this season, but they've had stretches where they've played well.  Certainly well enough that they probably could have been a .500 team in the conference if they hadn't collapsed in the final five minutes of some games.

What surprised me is that when Missouri went on a run in the final five minutes, Nebraska didn't fold this time.  Brandon Richardson nails a clutch three while getting fouled, then hits the free throw with under four minutes to go.  Then, when Missouri went on an 8-0 run, you could almost hear the muttering across the state "here they go again"  Yet they went out and made their free throws, and finished off the listless Tigers.

Great win?  Absolutely.  But Nebraska basketball is still down to their final loss in all likelihood.  CBI?  CIT?  That's a stretch for a sub .500 team, even from the best conference in college basketball.

Can they repeat the formula from today?  It starts with great shooting, and Nebraska shot nearly 56% from the field.  Getting Bear Jones and Ryan Anderson back on the floor was a huge lift.  Interesting that Christian Standhardinger didn't play as Doc Sadler went for a more defensive performance.  Only 9 guys played, which probably won't work tomorrow playing for the second straight day.  Standhardinger will have to play, if only to give the others a break.

Nothing to lose tomorrow for the Huskers; the season is already lasting longer than many thought.  I wonder how many Husker fans left the Sprint Center needing to go find a hotel room?  (Then I realized that most of them planned to stick around to watch the Husker women, who play on Friday.)  So the "off day" will have some Husker hoops after all.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

UNO Sweeps Bowling Green; Ferris State Up Next

UNO easily cruised this weekend to a pair of 6-1 victories over Bowling Green in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.  The overmatched Falcons did score the opening goal of the series with a fluky goal that ricocheted off the post then off goalie Jeremie Dupont's back before crossing the goal line.  From there, UNO scored almost at will both evenings.  Bowling Green desperately rotated through all of their goalies during the weekend, trying to find someone to slow down the Mavs...but it didn't matter who was in goal with the lack of support from the rest of the Falcons.  The Mavericks were simply faster, stronger, and more skilled than Bowling Green.  Case in point:  on Friday night, Alex Hudson got called for a tripping penalty that reminded me of a few of Ndamukong Suh's penalties this season.  He was just so much bigger and stronger than the other guy that it just looked like a penalty.

The highlight of the weekend was Dan Swanson swatting a Bowling Green attempt to clear the puck out of midair, gaining control of the puck, then burying the puck in the back of the net faster than you could chant "Where's My Sharpie?"  (That and my inability to track the score Saturday night as we chanted after every goal...)

Next up for the Mavs will be #13 Ferris State in a best of three series in Big Rapids, Michigan.  Ferris swept the Mavs back during the December slump; I get the feeling the Mavs are playing a wee bit better now.  Win two games this weekend, and UNO not only earns a trip to the CCHA semifinals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit...but also moves closer and closer to an NCAA berth.  UNO is currently on the wrong side of the bubble, currently sitting in a four-way tie for 16th place in the PairWise.  16 teams make the NCAA tournament, and with the Atlantic Hockey Association an autobid, the best case scenario is the top 15 teams in the PairWise will get an invite.  If UNO makes it to "the Joe", the Mavs should be very close to that Top 15. They'd probably pass Ferris, and if Alaska defeats Northern Michigan, that might open up another spot.  Add in more upsets elsewhere in college hockey, and you just never know.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

With Husker Hoops, that Light at the End of the Tunnel was Another Train

Last Saturday, Husker basketball fans thought Nebraska basketball had made the breakthrough in upsetting Texas Tech in double overtime.  Something to build on?  Maybe a reversal of fortune?

Hardly.  Nebraska built on that victory with a comatose performance against Colorado on Senior Night, and now are getting blown out by Oklahoma State in Stillwater.  Nebraska will finish the season in the cellar of the Big XII, and the grumbling has begun about Doc Sadler.  Is it time to pull the plug on Sadler?

No, though the concerns are valid.  First things first is to put this season in perspective.  Nebraska basketball was predicted to finish 11th.  The roster was full of new names and faces... and the Big XII is a monster this season.  Kansas and Kansas State could be #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and seven teams are currently projected to get NCAA bids.

Frankly, it's what we should have expected.  We're now feeling the effects of Steve Pederson's starvation of the Nebraska basketball program.  In 2006, the failure to extend or terminate Barry Collier's contract sent a bad message to potential recruits that Nebraska didn't care about basketball.  Nebraska never had a chance to get those players...and four years later, those players are now upperclassmen at other programs.  That vacuum is now hitting the Husker program hard.

Doc Sadler didn't help himself much with his early recruiting.  Hired late in the summer of 2006, he got a late start on recruiting for the 2007 class ... and misfired.  (Shang Ping, anybody?)  Add in some misadventures in administration (Roburt Sallie, anybody?), and you've got a huge hole to dig out of.

I admit I haven't watched Nebraska basketball closely this season; it's been painful to watch at times.  They've been in a bunch of games, but failed miserably in the closing minutes to turn "competitive" into "another loss".  In the second half, they led both Kansas (at Allen Fieldhouse, no less) and Kansas State (in Manhattan).  Tempted us with top 25 Baylor.  Got disemboweled by the Longhorns, then blown out this week.  They lack solid guard play, and get owned inside.  (Jorge Brian Diaz looked pathetic at times inside today against Oklahoma State.)

But I have seen little flashes of potential.  Christian Standhardinger could become a playmaker if he grasps a more disciplined system.  Injuries to Toney McCray and Christopher Niemann limited the depth before the season Evan began.  The Big XII shouldn't be so stout next season.

Pulling the plug on Doc Sadler would be premature at this point.  I'm not saying that Doc Sadler has proven that he's the right coach, but he did show potential his first three seasons.  He's got to upgrade the talent level, and I think he recognizes it.  But it's not as bad as it seems; prior to today's game, Sagarin had NU #100 in the country.  Not nearly as bad as another program in this state that some people feel has surpassed the Huskers.  (Well, we've always questioned the BrieJay and BratJay fan...)

So Nebraska will likely face Mizzou in Kansas City to close out the season.  The Tigers should be p-o'ed about getting run out of their own building by the hated Jayhawks; not a good combination for NU unless they can find some more lightning in a bottle.  Postseason is now pretty much out of the question; the Huskers next loss will be the last game of the season.

All I can say is you've got to have hope.  Two years ago, Missouri fans questioned Mike Anderson and the future of the Tiger basketball program.  Things worked out for them.  Could they work out still for Doc Sadler?  The jury is still out...but I don't see any reason to stop those proceedings at this time.  Not yet, anyway.  Nobody should be happy with this season, but nobody should hit the panic button either.