Wednesday, March 20, 2013

UNO's Hockey Season Finishes It's Crash Landing

Disappointed?  Yes.  Surprised? No.  I suspect that's the reaction of most Maverick hockey fans to Sunday's season ending 3-1 loss to Minnesota State.  Two months ago, UNO sat atop the WCHA standings, but fell apart in the final weeks.  UNO lost ten out of their final 13 games, and dreams of playing for a conference and national title are long gone.

UNO never once qualified for the WCHA's "Final Five" tournament in St. Paul; they are the only WCHA school to not make it to the Exel Energy Center during those three years.  In fact, UNO's last playoff tournament appearance was in 2005.

Hard to believe that UNO's first season in a conference is still the best March the Mavericks have ever had.  After upsetting Northern Michigan in a three game series, UNO returned home to play an unexpected play-in quarterfinal game against Bowling Green.  That legendary "Tuesday Night" game against Bowling Green might have been one of the Civic Auditorium's greatest nights.  Three days later, UNO knocked off Michigan in the "St. Patrick's Day Massacre", sending the Cinderella Mavericks to the CCHA Championship game.  The clock struck midnight that night; Sparty shut out the Mavs 6-0.  And that's as close as UNO has come to a conference title.

It's not like Dean Blais doesn't know how to win championships; he won two national titles in ten years at North Dakota.  But something hasn't clicked in Omaha the last two seasons.

Or did UNO's first half performance give fans an unrealistic expectation for this season?  UNO was picked to finish eighth in the preseason coaches and media polls.  They finished seventh.  So they exceeded expectations.  Slightly.  But oh, so much more was possible.

So now Dean Blais has to sit down and figure out what went wrong in the last month and a half, and find a solution. He'll have to do that without defenseman Andrej Sustr, who's headed for the NHL.  That's should not be a shock to anybody; NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire began touting Sustr for the bigs back in October.  Sounds like there is a good chance that junior Matt White could turn pro as well.  But could Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Walters return?
So thus ends UNO's brief stay in the WCHA.  Now things get serious in the NCHC, where there won't be any nights off.  Yes, Minnesota and Wisconsin are off the schedule.  So is the Kryptonite from Bemidji State.  But there aren't any Michigan Techs or Alaska-Anchorages on the conference schedule anymore either.

One of these days, UNO will play in a conference tournament in the Twin Cities.  Lets just hope it's sooner rather than later.

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