Saturday, April 27, 2013

Omaha Awarded 2016 Olympic Swim Trials

Omaha's CenturyLink Center beats out domes in St. Louis and San Antonio to host the 2016 Olympic Swim Trials.  Exact dates are still being determined. That's likely a negotiation with NBC and potentially the NCAA. The 2016 Olympics in Rio will be held a week later than the 2012 Olympics in London, so there's less opportunity for a conflict.  More than likely, it'll be the first week of July.

Omaha hosted both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic trials, setting attendance records each time.  Obviously, USA Swimming wanted to stick with the proven location than try a bigger venue in another market.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Former UNO Assistant Steve Rohlik Taking over at Ohio State

Western College Hockey is reporting that former UNO assistant Steve Rohlik will be named head coach at Ohio State later today.
Rohlik was an assistant under Mike Kemp from 1997 to 2000.  He then spent nine seasons at Minnesota-Duluth, reaching the Frozen Four in 2004, before jumping to Ohio State in 2010.  He was the runner-up to replace Kemp as UNO head coach in 2009, when Dean Blais was hired.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bruins Fans are #BostonStrong

NHL fans have to be the best professional fans in this country. Sure, fans of NFL and Major League Baseball teams outnumber them in quantity, but hockey fans outclass them all in terms of their passion.  That was proven tonight, where the Bruins took to the ice for the first professional sporting event in Boston since Monday's terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.

And what a tribute to the victims and this country where 17,565 fans sang the national anthem a cappella.

(H/T to Eric Burton's Goon's World and SB Nation)

Sadly, the Bruins lost 2-1 in an overtime shootout to the Buffalo Sabres.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The NCAA Hockey Tournament Needs to Return To Campus Sites

On Saturday night, the last team selected into the NCAA hockey tournament skated off with the trophy as #15 seed Yale defeated Quinnipiac for the national championship.  The story to me isn't so much Yale winning it as much as how Yale won it.

Two weeks earlier, Yale defeated Minnesota and North Dakota to emerge from the West Regional into the Frozen Four.  I don't get ESPNU at home, but fortunately, I found myself out of town with access to the Yale/North Dakota game on Dish Network.  North Dakota led most of the way, but a defensive meltdown in the last 10 minutes of the game led to Yale's upset.

It didn't help North Dakota's chances that the West Regional game was held in a mostly empty Grand Rapids, Michigan arena. Yep...the "west" regional was held in the eastern timezone.  Was it neutral ice?  Technically so, though the facility was so ill-suited for a tournament game that players had to use toilet stalls for lockers.
It was almost like the game was played at a municipal ice rink, albeit with shiny boards and shiny graphics on the ice.  Every hit against the boards created an echo in the largely quiet arena.  This wasn't a championship atmosphere.  It was no atmosphere, because the venue was nearly 600 miles away from the closest school in that region.

Immediately after that game, viewers were switched to the New Hampshire/UMass-Lowell game, and it was remarkable contrast in environment.  The neutral site was 40 miles from both campuses, making it an easy drive for every fan.  It was a packed house, and completely different feel.  A championship atmosphere.

There are lots of ideas over what to do with the early rounds of the NCAA hockey tournament.  A best of three first round could be interesting.  But no matter what the NCAA does, the opening games need to be played closer to fans.  NCAA baseball uses home fields.  Even NCAA women's basketball uses home courts for the opening rounds.  Is it an advantage for the home teams?  Absolutely...but at least the teams that get it have earned it on the field.  It's not a bidding situation where someone gets an advantage because a nearby community was able to submit a winning bid years earlier.

A community that doesn't support college hockey, I might add.  They depend on fans traveling in to make it work. When you get lucky enough to have teams within an hour, it can work.  It doesn't work away from the east coast, where the schools (and neutral sites) are much more spread out.

It's simply a matter of fairness, because the current format favors east coast schools.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Besides #TeamJack, Other Things to Like (& Dislike) At the Husker Spring Game

The highlight of the day was Jack Hoffman's 69 yard touchdown run, without a doubt. But there were other things of note on the day.  First, the good:

Alonzo Moore looks to be the next Nebraska wide receiver star.  I liked what I saw on his first catch of the day; I missed the second because I was explaining something to my daughter. Sadly, we didn't get a replay on the HuskerVision screens of it.  Jordan Westerkamp's hands are legit and as advertised as well.  Nebraska's receiver corps are absolutely loaded for the next couple of years.

A really nice hit late in the game by Corey Cooper, who looks to be finding a home at safety. Wil Richards had a nice game for the most part.

Tight ends were a big part of the day. I know not to read much of anything into anything we see in a Spring Game, but I think Nebraska is going to manage just fine without Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed this season.

And some of the not-so-good:

At first I was dismayed by the yardage that King Frazier and Graham Nabity were finding on the ground. I'll temper that by remembering that Nebraska had decent success running the ball last year behind the offensive line. The problems up front weren't in running; it was pass protection.  I still wish I could have seen a little more out of the defensive line.

I liked what I saw out of Zaire Anderson in the "compete" drill.  I saw some nice effort by Trevor Roach, and Jared Afalava made some plays.  So did Courtney Love, who really should have been worried about his high school prom date yesterday. Thomas Brown, on the other hand, seemed to catch my eye more with his misplays than anything.  Todd Neeley of the Hastings Tribune was awfully impressed with Brown, for what it's worth.

The player everybody wanted to see was Tommy Armstrong, and he showed a lot of promise. I can only wonder what the people who want Taylor Martinez benched thought when Armstrong fumbled on his very first play.   Did it again in the third quarter.  Nice moves in the open field, and a decent arm.  He looks more natural than Taylor Martinez on the option.  Is he a threat to unseat Martinez as the starter?  I'm not sure I saw anything like that, but what I did see is a solid option for 2014...and an insurance policy for 2013 that would allow Taylor Martinez to run more aggressively this season.  Call me decidedly old school about not liking Martinez running out of bounds to avoid contact.  I've understood why he's done it the last two years, but I've only accepted it grudgingly because of the lack of a viable backup. Now that excuse is off the board.  Do it judiciously, of course...but hopefully Martinez can be more aggressive on the ground in his senior season.

Placekicker Mauro Bondi showed a strong leg, including a doink off of the uprights on a kickoff with the wind. He kicks linedrives, which could be a problem on field goal attempts. Speaking of kicking, I think offensive tackle Zach Sterup actually looked like a viable alternative in the punt return game...especially in contrast to the bungling we saw last season.  His over-the-shoulder grab in the lineman punt-fielding competition was one of the highlights of the day.

Of course, the true highlight of the day was #TeamJack. Hard to believe that the story only keeps growing.

An ESPY? You never know, but it's going to be awfully tough to top yesterday for a great story. I'm so glad that I was privileged to have a chance to watch it.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Jack Hoffman, the Husker Hero of the 2013 Spring Game

Not since Cory Schlesinger rolled into the end zone in the 1995 Orange Bowl has a touchdown moved me like the last, but greatest, touchdown of Nebraska's spring game. Jamal Turner's last second touchdown against Michigan State certainly was big. Ndamukong Suh's touchdown return against Colorado rattled every joint in Memorial Stadium.  Eric Crouch's "Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass" did the same.

But they didn't hit you in the heart like Schlesinger's run.  That touchdown put Nebraska in the lead in a place where Husker fans had felt nothing but pain for well over twenty years. You just knew that when Nebraska took that lead, this was going to be different, and that Tom Osborne would finally have that national championship that had eluded him for so many years.  The demons of 1983 and 1993 were exorcised as the Miami beast went down in Nebraska's house of horrors, and the emotions just flowed on that night.  That touchdown was different.

And that's what Jack Hoffman's 69 yard run did to me. Watching 100 college students yield the field to let a 7 year old boy battling brain cancer take the spotlight...yeah, that was special. It's been a busy week for #TeamJack.  Wednesday, the Hoffman's updated Jack's Caring Bridge site with the following update:

Today, we celebrate God's graciousness as another MRI revealed that the tumor is again stable to even slightly smaller.  Stability is success.  Shrinkage is a bonus.  All doctors agree that today's MRI, as compared to last April, reveals that the tumor has shrunk substantially.  

And what a way to celebrate that good news. It gave you goosebumps if you had the privilege of watching it in persons, and now the nation is now sharing in the story as it crashes into the Final Four.

If you are cynical, you could point out that it was just a meaningless scrimmage filled with gimmick events (offensive linemen fielding punts?)  But how cynical can you be after you see this?
Just look at what it means to the Hoffman family, and how it's going to impact their campaign to raise funds to help fight pediatric brain cancer.

What about the rest of the spring game? I have a few thoughts, but those are for another day. Tonight, I just want to reflect on a very special day.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

I've never completely understood the impatience by some fans to fire the coach of their favorite program. Sometimes it's a no-brainer, such as when Bill Callahan was fired after posting the only two losing seasons in the last fifty years at Nebraska. Sometimes it's inevitable, such as Doc Sadler who was simply spinning his wheels of the Nebraska basketball program.

But more and more frequently, disappointment leads to a quick trigger finger on the fire button. Firing Frank Solich after a 9-3 regular season in 2003 seemed to start that trend around here. (Somebody will point out that he really should have been fired for a 7-7 record in 2002. That might make a little more sense, but it's still a quick trigger finger considering that Solich did lead the Huskers to the Rose Bowl and the national championship game in 2001.) We have people in Nebraska calling for Bo Pelini to be fired, even though there aren't many coaches not named Nick Saban who can match his record over the last five years.

I've even lost friends over it.  One college friend told me last winter to "Mark my words, Nebraska won't get to nine wins in 2012" and that he "couldn't wait to have this conversation after an even less successful 2012 season".  Well, I reminded him of his predictions after the Iowa game, and as you might guess, it didn't go very well.  And it went completely south after the Big Ten championship game debacle.

Nobody likes losing in big games, and it's even worse when you get embarrassed in those same big games. I get the frustration.  I don't get the impatience with the quick trigger finger on the eject button.  That's the mentality that starts programs into the coaching churn; if a coach doesn't produce immediate results or has a not-so-great season, it's time to find someone new.  And I'm going to say it:  that's the mentality that brings Bill Callahan to town.

Case in point:  UCLA basketball.  Fired Ben Howland after losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Has UCLA been in a bit of a funk in recent years?  Yes.  But Howland took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours in 2006, 2007, and 2008.  That was then, this is now.  Out he goes.

And when the rest of the world asks what the hell UCLA is thinking, Bruins fans get indignant.  And when it comes time to find someone who can possibly do better, most of the better candidates slam the door (or the phone) at the prospect of entering that cesspool.  So who does UCLA hire?

Steve Alford.  Yep, the failed Iowa coach who is known as "redacted" at  Stepped back to New Mexico, and drove a 33 year beat writer to quit last month rather than continue to try and cover an Alford team.  He's since removed his rant; he's probably giving it a second chance now that Alford's left for Lala Land.

Case in point:  North Dakota hockey coach Dave Hakstol. NoDak held a 1-0 lead over Yale midway through the third period of the regional final, only to lose 4-1 in a spectacular meltdown.  Leading to the inevitable:
Four Frozen Fours in nine years sounds pretty good?  Pretty bad for some North Dakota fans.  North Dakota hockey fans are kind of like Nebraska football fans. They showed their passion in overrunning Omaha in February.  They have high expectations, and when those high expectations aren't met, some are quick to look for something else.

Case in point:  Denver hockey coach George Gwozdecky.  Rebuilt a proud program over the last 19 years, but forced out because he hadn't had more success in the NCAA tournament.
Yeah... all the guy did was win the 2004 and 2005 national championships.  What have you done for me lately?  The Pioneers were miserable for most of the 1970's and 1980's, and even into the 1990's...but hey, that was then.

I guess if you are going to fire guys like Ben Howland and George Gwozdecky, then I guess you can fire guys like Bo Pelini and Dave Hakstol.  But don't expect things to get better after you fire a winning coach.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Kugler's Call Tells All You Need to Know When Kevin Ware's Leg Goes Wrong

Thanks to a cranky preschooler, I was spared from watching Kevin Ware's injury during today's NCAA tournament game between Louisville and Duke. It's probably something that every parent can identify with; the kids acting up while you are watching sports. When I came back and checked via Twitter, all I could find were tweets discussing how gruesome it was...but nothing that told me what had happened.
And of course, once it happened, nobody wanted to see it replayed ever again.  Only problem is that those of us who missed it, the tweets didn't say what had happened.   And of course, that led to the video showing up on YouTube and other sources where people inevitably went to learn what had happened, if they had missed it.
Even worse, I came across a photo which may - or may not - have been of the actual injury on Instagram. Sadly, it was shown to me by a very frightened young girl who saw something graphic and gory on the iPhone. 

Couldn't there be a happy medium in reporting these incidents?  Nobody needs to see what happened again; if you saw it live, that was enough and couldn't be helped. YouTube or zoomed in photos not only aren't necessary in these situations, they are simply deplorable.  But by that same manner, just calling it an "injury" and "gory" isn't exactly helpful.  Heck, none of the reports I had even indicated which team had suffered the injury...

That's where radio came in, and Kevin Kugler's sensitive and accurate call of the play.

"It's very very bad, and it is a leg that has gone the wrong direction.. I can see it from here. It is abs...all of the players, his teammates, are on the floor, Siva, Behanan can't even look, he's rolling around at the free throw line,  Russ Smith is coming the floor nearly in tears, Rick Pitino's away from the huddle, Russ Smith is in tears Behanan is crying, sobbing, at the free throw line as Kevin Ware is down in front of the Louisville bench, his leg turned a way that a leg is not supposed to go. This .. is .. devastating, and this team is absolutely shaken to the core right now."
Pretty much said everything you needed to know about the injury and it's severity...but without the gory details.  Props to Kugler for making the right call in that situation...