Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Night Dessert: Any Local March Madness Will Come From UNO Hockey

After the big victory over Texas one week ago, Nebraska basketball dribbled the ball out of bounds, so to speak, in losses to Kansas State and Iowa State in the last week. A week ago, one could hope that the Huskers could work their way into NCAA contention; now, they've likely got to win four games in Kansas City to do that. Easy to blow off the Husker basketball program, but I'm sticking with Doc Sadler for now.  Sadler's made his mistakes along the way, to be sure...but he hasn't had a lot of help either. The roster was in shambles when he arrived, and he made a few mistakes (Shang Ping anybody?). But the school failed him as well, especially when you consider the whole Roburt Sallie fiasco.

UNO's loss to Denver last night didn't break the Mavs season. Thanks to Minnesota-Duluth's tie at Colorado College last night, the Mavs remain in third place in the WCHA and jumped to eighth place in the Pairwise. Now they head to Duluth to secure that 3rd place finish, which would a heck of a finish for the Mavs first season in the WCHA.  In any event, it looks like UNO is going to be playing meaningful hockey games throughout the month of March.

Speaking of March, that means that spring football is coming up soon. I'm somewhat surprised by the number of tickets still remaining for the spring game. Did fans take the late season collapse that hard, or was Jim Rose really right in suggesting that fans are upset with Bo Pelini?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mavs Run Out of Gas Against Denver; Split Series

Driving downtown tonight for the UNO-Denver series finale, I caught the Dean Blais pregame interview where he thought that UNO needed to survive the Pioneers first period surge. After last night's loss, he expected Denver to come out flying right from the start.  Well, UNO withstood that initial surge, but it turns out that Denver had much more in the tank tonight. They dominated the second period, and had the edge in the third period.

I'm not sure how to explain this one, but I think UNO just simply ran out of gas tonight. It happens. The run over the last five weeks, starting with that series split in North Dakota, just isn't one of those strings that just keeps going. And after having to fly up to Alaska last weekend, they didn't have enough left in their tanks for a top ten team like the Pioneers.  Sloppy, lazy passes were picked off, and as the game wore on, it was Denver, not UNO, that had the spring in their step. UNO prides themselves on being the fastest and best conditioned team out on the ice, but that wasn't the case tonight.

John Faulkner was pulled at the end of the first period for Fredrik Bergman; not sure that Faulkner wasn't playing poorly as much as the team needed a bit of a spark. A rumor floating around the arena was that Faulkner got dinged earlier in the week and wasn't feeling well.  In any event, Bergman put on an impressive performance in relief, though he ends up taking the loss on the stat sheet.

Unfortunately, that effort came in front of a huge crowd of 11,504 tonight who packed the Qwest Center and made Civic-like noise late in the third period. If there is one positive note that can be taken away from this evening, the crowd is one thing. (Can we finally declare that UNO's era at the Civic Auditorium is FINALLY over?  UNO drew over 20,000 fans to a weekend series this weekend.)

Tonight's loss dropped the Mavs to 3rd place in the WCHA, and could be tied with Minnesota Duluth, depending on the outcome of their game with Colorado College tonight.  The loss also dropped the Mavs to 10th in the Pairwise rankings, which determine the seedings for the NCAA tournament.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mavs Catch #6 Denver While Shorthanded

UNO moved into sole possession of second place in the WCHA with a 5-2 victory over #6 Denver tonight in front of a smaller-than-expected crowd at the Qwest Center. The Mavs got off to a strong start with a dominating first period performance capped off by a short-handed goal by Rich Purslow off a great pass by Joey Martin. But UNO couldn't find the back of the net again in the first period despite numerous good scoring opportunities. Denver came back to tie the game early in the second period, only to have Johnnie Searfoss slap one home to regain the lead at 2-1.

In the third period, Denver turned up the heat and tied the game on a defensive miscue as Jason Zucker found Drew Shore wide open in front of the net. Two minutes later, Matt Ambrosz deflected a Andrej Sustr laserbeam slapshot to break the tie once again.  Matt White then raced in shorthanded for an unassisted goal to widen the lead to 4-2.  Denver pulled goalie Adam Murray with over three minutes left in the game, but couldn't get anything past UNO's John Faulkner.  Rich Purslow netted an empty-net goal in the final second to give the Mavs a 5-2 victory.

That victory combined with Colorado College's 5-4 victory over Minnesota-Duluth put the Mavs in second place, just one point behind first place North Dakota, who was idle this evening.  It may be difficult for UNO to pass the Sioux in these final games; North Dakota has two games against 10th place Bemidji State and two more against last place Michigan Tech to close out the season. But second is still a huge accomplishment since the top two teams in the regular season can earn byes in the opening games at the WCHA Final Five, should they win their first round playoff series.

The win didn't do much for UNO's standings in the Pairwise standings that determine the NCAA tournament seedings; they're still ninth.  Tonight's win gave the Mavs back-to-back 20 win seasons for just the second time in school history.  Huge accomplishment.  But UNO needs to finish off the Pioneers tomorrow night to set themselves up for a solid finish, because tomorrow night's winner will be in second place going into the final weekend of the regular season.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Night Dessert: What Does Big Husker Hoops Win Really Mean?

After tempting us and flirting with fans so many times in recent years with "oh-so-close, but not enough" performances in recent years, it was great to see Nebrasketball pull off the victory over Texas that every Husker fan desires. Sure, nearly every Husker fan would have preferred that the victory had come last October in football, but nobody is going to turn this one down either. It's certainly the biggest victory for a local basketball team since Creighton's double-overtime upset over Florida in the NCAA tournament nine years ago, and the biggest Husker basketball win since the improbable Big Eight championship run in 1994.

I missed much of the first half after a slow start, but picked up the game early in the second half as the Huskers tied the Longhorns, and the team looked like a team that was ready to exorcise the program's demons. The spirit of Bruce Chubick infested the team as the team picked up crucial rebound after rebound. Andre Almeida looked like the force that he was early in the season rather than the out-of-shape blob that he looked like at times earlier in conference play.

Throughout the second half, Nebraska seemed to dominate the Longhorns for the first eighteen minutes, but then yet another collapse at the end seemed to cement the program's reputation as a team that can't finish.  We've seen it time and time again as the Huskers let a big victory slip out of their hands at the very end.  This time, the collapse happened in the 59th minute instead of the 60th. In a matter of 35 seconds, an 11 point lead vaporized. Couldn't hit a free throw.  Failed to rebound.  Turned the ball over and put Longhorns at the free throw line unnecessarily.  Here we go again.  Except that the Huskers recovered in the final minute, made the plays they needed to, and got the win.

Great win, and it puts the Big Red into the mix for an NCAA tournament berth.  They'll need to pull off a few more victories against stout Kansas State and Missouri teams, but just being in contention is a sign of progress.  Some people question why Husker fans didn't sell out the Devaney Center for this game, but that's missing the point. A lot of fans around here are bandwagon, and attendance always lags success. Husker basketball had great attendance in the middle 90's, but it was preceded by pretty good teams in the late 80's and early 90's.  Creighton basketball attendance success came after the Bluejays completed their five year string of NCAA tournament berths. Some fans simply want to see results before they invest their money on tickets.

Speaking of teams on an NCAA tournament run, the Mavs salvaged a split up at Alaska-Anchorage this weekend, keeping the Mavs pretty much in the same position they were in a week ago. Friday night's 3-2 loss spoiled a great opportunity to move within a point of first place as the top three teams in the WCHA were upset on Friday. Up next is #3 Denver in a huge series for both teams.

The World-Herald's story about the UFL and the Omaha Nighthawks have to really raise the alarm level as to the long-term viability of the league. Frankly, I've felt that the league is only viable if the NFL invests in it as a developmental arrangement.  The NFL scuttled the old NFL Europe because they were losing a similar amount of money, but with the advent of the NFL Network and a financial arrangement where the NFL isn't shouldering the entire burden of operating the league, it might be viable. I get the feeling the UFL has only one path to survival, and that is the shutdown of the NFL this summer and fall. The UFL could get an infusion of attention and media dollars, and that could buy the league time.  Prove that it's quality football and a good development source, and the NFL might be willing to subsidize the league enough to make a franchise like Omaha viable in the long run.  Then they'll need to find other Omaha-like cities that love football and are willing to support the league. Right now, they  haven't found any.  And that's a problem.

Folks in Sarpy County should be casting a wary eye to the experience of Council Bluffs and the Mid-American Center, if they are counting on development around the Trailer Park at BFE to subsidize the new stadium. On Friday, a mostly-vacant shopping plaza at the Mid-America Center was auctioned off after the original developer defaulted on the mortgage. The MAC never proved to be enough of a draw to make this shopping center viable, and now the MAC also sits mostly unused with the Lancers moving back to Omaha. The parallels between the MAC and BFE were noted by Grow Omaha's Trenton Magid last week. Granted, the two situations are quite different, as the MAC is also surrounded by casinos and other development towards Lake Manawa, while BFE is surrounded by... cornfields... on three sides.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Night Beer: Cosgrove Gets a Job While Husker Fans Wait

Tom Dienhart confirms tonight that Akron hired Kevin Cosgrove to be their new defensive coordinator. While I'm disappointed that Nebraska won't get to face a Cosgrove defense, it's a nice consolation prize to have Frank Solich's Ohio Bobcats get that opportunity.

Meanwhile, the World-Herald's Mitch Sherman found confirmation that Corey Raymond, Ross Els, and Rich Fisher are on the Husker staff -- in the UNL staff directory, of all places.  Why no official announcement yet? Good question, but I can think of two reasons:  (1) the future status of Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore still is unknown and probably still being resolved, and (2) John Garrison is still listed as a part-time intern. That means that some red tape still has to be cleared, so we still await the formal announcement.

UNO hockey jumped up to #13 in the USCHO rankings, ironically one spot behind Wisconsin. Those rankings are nice, but the Pairwise rankings are what's important, and right now, the Mavs are tied for 7th, which is good for a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Right now, that probably sends the Mavs out to Connecticut to play Michigan, but there's a possibility they could get swapped out and sent to St. Louis to improve travel.  Still way too much hockey to play to get too concerned about this. I still think UNO could play their way all the way up to a #1 seed (not the #1 overall, mind you)...but could also play themselves right out of contention as well.  Just keep winning.

The Mavs are on the road this weekend at Alaska-Anchorage, which is a tough bit of travel. But anticipation is already growing on the series after that with #4 ranked Denver.  I'm hearing reports that last weekend's series got the attention of a lot of fans, and that there's a lot of interest.  Is it time for UNO to buy ""?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ridiculous Badger Fan Opinions Set Ominious Tone For Future Husker & Mav Rivalries

Earlier this week, I checked out Chuck Schwartz's Wisconsin hockey blog "60 Minutes. No Alibis. No Regrets." to preview this weekend's series between the Badgers and UNO.  As I scrolled down, I stumbled across this little gem. Apparently, Badger fans thought that Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves had "sewn up coach of the year" weeks ago. They don't say whether they are talking WCHA or national coach of the year...but either way, it's simply a stunning ignorant statement to make just past the halfway point of the season.
In my opinion it's a no brainer that Eaves has already locked up the coach of the year award by the results this team has shown. If anyone projected the Badgers to be this good, this soon after losing all they lost is lying. Look no further than down 94 West at Minnesota where they can't seem to get it together despite bringing in top 3 recruiting classes year, after year.
Well, since he's primarily comparing the Badgers situation to Minnesota's, well, I suppose he has a point that Eaves might be Big Ten coach of the year. In that case, he's really only competing with Red Berenson..and this season, that's probably a comparison he might actually win.

But in the WCHA? Good golly.  Schwartz asks if "anyone projected the Badgers to be this good"?  How good are the Badgers?  Well, they're fifth in the WCHA (even before UNO swept the Badgers this weekend).  Wee.  Where were they projected? The media predicted them to be, well, fifth.  The coaches, seventh.  In other words, big whoop. They are pretty much what people expected them to be.  Good, but not great.  Does that make Eaves coach of the year?  Hardly.

Who should get it?  Well, there's still nearly two months of hockey to play, so it's premature to even discuss it at this point.  UNO's Dean Blais has to be mentioned here.  UNO was picked eighth (coaches) and ninth (media), so being in a tie for third place (just two points out of first place) is an impressive achievement. Denver's George Gwozdecky also deserves a mention here, not to mention North Dakota's Dave Hakstol.

Nationally?  Even more ludicrous. How about Jeff Blashill at Western Michigan? Picked to finish 10th in the CCHA, the Broncos are in 4th place in their conference and 15th nationally, as Blashill and former Mav Rob Facca have Western rolling in their first season.

I say this not so much to argue about the relative merits of various coaches, but rather about the fan base at Wisconsin. Around here, we're not really familiar with them...but we're going to learn about them pretty quickly as both the Mavs (in hockey) and the Huskers (in all other Big Ten sports) will be facing off against the Badgers on a regular basis. Needless to say, if all Wisconsin fans share this same myopic and delusional vision of their programs like some of these hockey fans, it's pretty obvious that the rivalry is going to be rather spirited, to put it nicely.

In the meantime, I think the only thing Eaves has "locked up" at this point is that Minnesota's Don Lucia won't get more votes than him in any "coach of the year" polling.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mavs Complete Sweep of #7 Wisconsin

The UNO hockey team continued it's February surge with a 4-3 victory over formerly #7 Wisconsin tonight. The Mavs opened the scoring on a sweet two-on-one break, with Ryan Walters feeding Brock Montpetit for the easy goal midway through the first period. Wisconsin tied the game with under 30 seconds left in the period, then momentarily appeared to take the lead with just seconds left with a high arching shot. That goal was waived off after it was determined that a Badger deflected the puck well over his head with one of the more flagrant high sticks seen in quite a while.

Midway through the second period, Matt Ambrosz tapped in a rebound into a wide open net while being hauled down by Wisconsin's Eric Springer to not only give UNO the lead but also a power play.

Alex Hudson tapped in a rebound later in the second to widen the lead to 3-1, then Ambrosz drilled home the eventual game winner on another 2-on-1 break early in the third period. Two unfortunate penalty calls late in the third period resulted in two Badger power play goals, but the Badgers were unable to tie the game in the closing seconds.

The Mavs now are tied with Minnesota-Duluth for third place, and sit a mere two points out of first place in the conference standings. Not sure how UNO will fare nationally, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Mavs inch closer to the top ten.  But that's not as important as the Pairwise rankings; last week, UNO was on the bubble as the last team in the NCAA tournament.  The sweep of the Badgers caused the Mavs to jump to eighth place; a solid position, but very volatile since games remain against Denver and Minnesota-Duluth, who both are ahead of the Mavs.

Can UNO put together a campaign to promote the series against #4 Denver in two weeks?  Considering what's at stake (playoff seeding, PairWise rankings, and a potential regular season championship), it's certainly worthy of a big crowd and the promotion.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mavs Beat Wisconsin 4-1 in Front of School Record Crowd

In front of a school-record 15,137 fans, UNO defeated #7 Wisconsin 4-1 tonight on "Sell Out Wisconsin" night. It was a late arriving crowd, but that number likely wasn't inflated by no-shows, as I would guestimate the actual in-person attendance at between 14,500 and 15,000, judging from the few empty seats I saw around the 16,000 seat Qwest Center tonight. UNO got off to a fast paced start, but Wisconsin took control late in the first period, holding the puck in late to allow Jordy Murray to fire a shot past John Faulkner for a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.

UNO came out smoking to start the second period as Joey Martin and Johnnie Searfoss scored early in the period to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. Early in the third period, Alex Hudson had the play of the night when he picked up a rebound in the neutral zone and then raced in to score unassisted to give the Mavs a 3-0 lead. 

For much of the final 10 minutes, the Badgers tried and tried to get the puck past Faulkner, but the Mavs goaltender was up to the task.  An empty-net goal in the closing minute by Rich Purslow set the final at 4-1.

UNO now has a four point lead over Wisconsin in the league standings. Every game for the Mavs is huge from here on out, as they still have to play #3 Minnesota-Duluth and #4 Denver, who sit 1 and 3 points ahead of the Mavs in the WCHA standings. With this schedule down the stretch, UNO is very much alive with a chance to win the regular season title, though it'll take a nearly perfect finish against top competition to do it. First up is the series finale tomorrow night against Wisconsin.  While Wisconsin has the better record (19-9-3 vs 17-10-2) and the better national rankings, the Mavs have the better league record. That's due in part to UNO's struggles in December and January against teams that pulled off close wins with great goaltending and trapping styles. North Dakota blogger Goon pointed out this morning that Wisconsin only has one win this season against a team with a winning record. At this point in the season, that's something that UNO needs to capitalize on this weekend.

As for the crowd, those 15,000 or so fans made for a great environment. Not sure how many of them will be back, but tonight, I saw the future of what UNO hockey could be. Great performance on the ice, loud crowd. I have a feeling that this next month is going to be a heck of a lot of fun down the stretch.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Mav Hockey to take on Wisconsin

Last weekend, UNO swept St. Cloud State, capped by a frantic third-period comeback to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 victory. Next up for the Mavs this weekend is #7 Wisconsin as UNO begins a killer final month of the season where they play teams in top half of the conference standings.  After this weekend, the Mavs head north to Alaska-Anchorage, return home to face #4 Denver before finishing up the season at #3 Minnesota-Duluth. (Think Nebraska's football schedule next season is tough?)

The Mavs are sitting on the inside of the bubble for the NCAA tournament at this point, but this schedule gives UNO the ability to either rocket up or fall out of contention depending on how they perform.  And right now, I get the feeling UNO is poised to make a great run down the stretch. It might be easy to make too much of the UNO's midseason swoon, as UNO never really collapsed in those games. They just lost some close games against some lesser foes, sometimes with some incredibly unlucky bounces of the puck.  Like the week before against Alabama-Huntsville.  UNO peppered UAH goalie Clarke Saunders with 59 shots, and he stopped 58 of 'em. Go figure.

UNO has played well against the top level competition all season, sweeping Minnesota and splitting with Michigan and North Dakota. The North Dakota games were all classics, showing that UNO can play with anybody in the country at this point.

Friday night, UNO is going to attempt once again to sell out the Qwest Center.  As of last count, just over 3,000 tickets remained, making it likely that UNO will break their attendance record set last season. I have the feeling that it's going to be quite the series this weekend.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Irony of Jim Rose's "Essay" on Bo Pelini

As is my tradition around football signing day, I unplug from the internet, sports radio, and the rest of the media for a few days. The hype and misinformation runs rampant in the dead of winter; oh sure, they always say this time is different, but it's always the same every year. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But this year, it was different. The hype and misinformation took a backseat to real news of Marvin Sanders departure and questions about the makeup of the coaching staff. So over the weekend, I attempted to backtrack and figure out what I missed. I had heard that Jim Rose had said some things on KFAB radio Friday morning, but dismissed them. This morning, I heard Rose mention that he had posted them online, so I went back and listened to it.

And frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I don't completely disagree that Bo Pelini needs some help with media relations, but the rest of it was completely absurd coming from the deposed Husker Information Minister. And completely full of misinformation from a man who likely knows better, but says what he wants to say because it fits his agenda.  Bo needs to do a weekly radio show himself like Bill Byrne? That worked out well for his buddy Steve Pederson.  Besides, rotating the show through the assistants is a long standing tradition that dates back to Tom Osborne. (Despite what Rose claimed.)  Frank Solich did it that way, as well as 'ol Billy C.

Bo Pelini giving a "cliche fest"? Please; Rose hosted the Bill Callahan shows on the radio and on television, and you could literally make a drinking game out of them with his cliches, except that many fans were already drinking heavily after watching the latest debacle.  Pelini can be terse and ill-tempered at times in his comments, but he tells it like it is.  The recruiting dinner being unique to Nebraska? Well, that's news in South Bend and Corvallis.

Since his departure as the Husker play-by-play voice, Rose has been increasingly bombastic during the KFAB morning show.  He's tried to deny that second-hand smoke is a health concern as well as global warming.  Perhaps he's playing to the right-wing audience that KFAB now seems to covet. His latest obsession was in cheerleading the failed recall attempt of Omaha mayor Jim Suttle, once suggesting that someone in city government should be "shot".  After that record of success, Rose turned his tables on Pelini, insisting that Pelini had lost the fans.

I've been looking for evidence of this all weekend, and haven't found it. Except perhaps in the flat earth society that KFAB seems to cater to nowadays.

I'm not sure what's the reason behind Rose's sour grapes. It's quite ludicrous for the man who promoted and defended Steve Pederson now takes these positions without acknowledging his complicity with the regime that destroyed so many Husker traditions over four years. Does he really think that Bo Pelini is listening to him? Does he really think that somebody close to Pelini is going to have a "wow, Rose is right" realization and talk to Bo? Really? Maybe it's nothing more than a desperate attempt for attention from a now discredited and disgraced "voice of the Huskers", as he loved to call himself.

No matter what the reason; Rose's comments about Pelini are downright absurd considering the source. But at least I now know the source of the alleged "dissatisfaction with Bo Pelini."