Friday, February 28, 2014

Mavs Burn Colorado College 6-0

It only took 11 seconds for UNO to prove that Wednesday's dorm fire wasn't going to be a distraction. That was how long it took for freshman Austin Ortega to score the game winning goal. Ortega's goal was originally credited to senior Ryan Walters, but was changed after the game. Good deal, as Ortega was one of the Mavs who lost his dorm room and likely much of his stuff this week.

Two minutes later, Brock Montpetit scored a short-handed goal, followed quickly by freshman Jake Guentzel (another fire victim) to chase Colorado College goalie Josh Thorimbert to the bench. Four shots, three goals... And the rout was on.

Only drama from then on was Josh Archibald scoring his 27th and 28th goals of the season. The last broke Bill Thomas' school record of 27 set in 2005-06. It was strange that there wasn't a PA announcement of Archibald's accomplishment, but maybe that was intentional.

UNO was clearly motivated tonight. But will they have enough in the tank for the Saturday night game? It's been a long week, and Colorado College will be out to make amends for being embarrassed in the first game. A win could virtually lock up home ice in the playoffs, which is something the Mavs haven't been able to do the last couple of years.

It would really be nice to clear that up this weekend.

NU Foundation Raising Funds for UNO Dorm Fire Victims

The NU Foundation is now collecting funds to help the 42 victims of Wednesday's fire at the UNO dorms on the Aksarben Campus in the Scott Village. While thankfully nobody was injured, all have lost clothes, books, computers, and other personal possessions.  Some may simply be waterlogged and salvageable, but I suspect most everything will need to be replaced.

Eight freshman UNO hockey players are among the 42 residents of the building that burned.  While their first floor apartments were not destroyed, they've undoubtedly lost much. Since this fund will assist all of the fire victims, it should not present any NCAA violations.

Fire officials have determined that the blaze began with a carelessly discarded cigarette. So count a few more victims of someone else's smoking. Ironically, this fire probably is the unintended consequence of smoking bans. Thirty years ago, people would just smoke in their apartment, but now, smoking isn't permitted indoors anymore.  So people go outside, and since they already are snubbing their noses at the rules regarding smoking, they don't take the appropriate caution.  So now one smoker (and 41 other UNO students) are paying the price for a really nasty habit.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dorm Fire Affects Eight UNO Freshmen Hockey Players

Wednesday's dorm fire at the Scott Village on UNO's Aksarben Campus displaced 48 students from their campus home, including eight freshmen on the hockey team.
From freshman defenseman Ian Brady
From freshman winger Austin Ortega
It's been a rough week for UNO hockey.  The tipping point of last Saturday night's loss might have actually occurred at the end of the second period when senior Zahn Raubenheimer broke his foot while blocking a shot. He managed to stay on the ice and attempt to block another one with his remaining good food, but he'll be out six weeks, which makes him extremely unlikely to play again in a UNO jersey.  (If UNO can somehow get there, he might be able to play in the Frozen Four.  Freshman Jake Guentzel took a puck to the ear earlier this week, necessitating a few stitches in the ear. And now he and his roommates may have lost everything in their dorm room.

All of these events will certainly test the Mavs' mental focus with their final home regular season series this weekend against Colorado College. If they can hang onto third or fourth place, they'll host a playoff series from Thursday, March 13th through Saturday, March 15th.

Fortunately, none of the students were hurt.  But at best, many of their possessions are water damaged, and will need to be replaced. And that raises the question about what UNO can do to assist these players with their loss possessions under NCAA regulations. I'm still bothered by the three game suspensions that coach Dean Blais and junior defenseman Jaycob Megna had to serve over the handling of Megna's stolen watch. If I'm in UNO's compliance office, the call to the NCAA's office was made while the fire department was still at work to make sure that UNO was doing everything they could do and remain in compliance with NCAA regulations. (And as we know from the Sami Spenner case, sometimes those rules can be unfair.)

It's bad enough that these players lost their dorm; it would be even worse if somehow an NCAA rule got violated while trying to assist these players.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If the Loss of UNO Hockey Is Going to Hurt the CenturyLink Center, Shouldn't Omaha Have Tried Harder to Keep the Mavs Downtown?

Today's Omaha World-Herald brings us a tale of woe from MECA, who operates the CenturyLink Center, about the ramifications of the loss of UNO hockey after next season.

When UNO hockey leaves the CenturyLink, MECA will be able to save some money when it doesn't have to create ice and keep it cold through the winter, said Roger Dixon, MECA's president and CEO. The dates once reserved for hockey games could open up opportunities for other sports events and concerts.
Still, Dixon said, it likely won't be enough. Though he didn't provide specifics, the end of hockey — in addition to the Civic's closing — means MECA will probably end up cutting some staff positions and will have to find other savings.
The natural reaction from UNO fans is "waaaaa!"  And rightfully so.  I still believe that it was in EVERYBODY'S best interest: city of Omaha, MECA, and UNO, to have the Mavs continue to play hockey at the CenturyLink Center.

Some UNO fans refer to the new Chili Greens arena as the "promised land." I frankly don't see a "land flowing with milk and honey" for UNO; in fact, I worry they are instead headed to the desert.  The new arena, while adjacent to campus, is smaller than the average UNO hockey crowd. So with smaller crowds, UNO seems to be banking on getting their current fans to pay more to make this endeavor possible.  And that's unfortunate.

Unfortunate, because I do believe that the new arena is unnecessary for UNO hockey.  Grow the sport, grow the program.  But it also would have required MECA and the City of Omaha to be more flexible in dealing with UNO.

Today's article shows us that the loss of UNO hockey will have a negative impact on the operations of the CenturyLink Center.  The blame for that loss goes to MECA, for not finding a way to better utilize the facilities they have been entrusted with for the good of the community.  It happened with TD Ameritrade Ballpark, which now sits idle between the Fourth of July and next month, when college baseball season starts.  It's now happening to the CenturyLink Center.

Omaha didn't need the Trailer Park in BFE Sarpy County to keep the Royals in town.  And certainly Omaha doesn't need yet another arena. But we've got a second ballpark, and now Omaha is building yet another arena instead of better utilizing the arena we already have.

Mavs Fall 10 Minutes Shy of Sweep at Western Michigan

On Saturday night, UNO seemed to be cruising to a weekend sweep on the road against Western Michigan.  With under ten minutes left in the game, the Mavs led 3-1 and all seemed fine.
The kids were watching the Olympics, and I got distracted by NBC's daytime skating commentators, who were making a primetime appearance. 

Then boom, boom, boom... Before I even knew what had happened, Western had tied the game. And a couple of minutes later, the Broncos had the lead. Three goals in just over three minutes, and the game (and the weekend) had slipped away from UNO. (And suddenly, the worst thing I'd seen that evening wasn't Johnny Weir's bouffant.)

It wasn't all bad for UNO on the weekend.  The Mavs are still in third place, with a four point lead over fifth place Denver.  Denver or Minnesota Duluth need to win two more games than UNO over the next two weekends in order to bump UNO out of home ice for the first round of the NCHC playoffs.  But those lost points from Saturday night likely would have meant that UNO could clinch home ice this weekend.  In fact, UNO would have still had a reasonable chance to win or share the regular season conference title.

Instead, the Mavs find themselves two games behind North Dakota and St. Cloud State with four games left to play.  Maybe they weren't going to be able to make that up, especially with the former Sioux and the Huskies matching up this weekend in St. Cloud.  But they had a shot... (and not a Lloyd Christmas chance either...)

UNO's home hockey season wraps up this weekend against seventh place Colorado College, and the regular season ends next week on the road at sixth place Minnesota Duluth.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Backyard Ice Rink Project: Nebraska's Schizophrenic Weather Taking It's Toll

This winter's schizophrenic weather has made it difficult to keep the backyard rink in good shape... Or even use. 65 degrees is great for a lot of activities, but ice skating isn't one of those. The ice gets covered in puddles, and begins pulling away from the boards, allowing the water to leak out.

Leaves in the ice
Even worse are the winds, which blow leaves onto the ice and drop the temperatures to the other extreme. A snowier winter would have helped on both problems. Snow makes for a great insulation and filler material to help keep the water in the rink, and snow on the ground would also bury the leaves.

Now, we're in the final stretch of the rink. Last week' swarm weather nearly melted the shallower sections of the rink, and the  stronger sun has led to more problems with melting. I suspect that the ice has been undercut by melting ice, as now a few holes from melting leaves have proven difficult to repair. The water just drains out somewhere at the low end.

Filling it with some crushed ice seems to have stayed the problem for now, and this weeks trip back into the deep freeze should allow me to get the rink fully back into use.

Hey kids, no skating here. There's a puddle there!

One part of the rink was unusable this week due to the melting. It's in the spot where the sun hits it strongest, and it's also where I suspect the water is channeling to underneath the ice and over the liner to find an exit point.

Memo to file for next time; be sure to secure the liner to the rink boards. I didn't want to put staple holes in the liner, but the result was a liner that easily let water flow over the sides.

Too late to do much about it now. I figure the whole rink only has about 3 more weeks before spring finishes it off...

Friday, February 21, 2014

MECA Isn't Planning on UNO Hockey Playing a Sunday Night NCHC Playoff Game

Browsing through the CenturyLink Center schedule, an entry caught my eye.  Demi Lovato has a concert scheduled for Sunday, March 16th at 7 pm.  Lovato doesn't interest me; she's apparently a former Disney Channel star with her own music career. Not my taste.

What interested me was the date.  Sunday, March 16, 2014 should be reserved at the CenturyLink Center for something else, and sure enough, I confirmed the hockey schedule on the UNO web site.  The first round of the NCHC playoffs run from Friday, March 14th through the 16th, and the games are played on the home rink of the top four seeds.

UNO is currently in third place in the NCHC, and if the season had ended last weekend, would be hosting a playoff series that weekend.  There's still three weeks left to go in the season, so that's subject to change, but as it stands, UNO is potentially looking to host a best-of-three series that weekend.

Except that the operators of the CenturyLink Center have already booked a concert the night of the third game.  How does this happen?

Yes, I know UNO is building an $85 million arena to get away from MECA, but organizations shouldn't have to build their own arena to avoid this type of scheduling conflict.  After March 16th, UNO won't hold another hockey game until October. Certainly, there's plenty of time to schedule this concert after hockey season.

The big question is: what happens if UNO hosts a playoff series that weekend?  Does UNO schedule a Thursday through Saturday series?  Schedule a Friday, Saturday, and Monday series?  Or (gag), schedule a deciding game three in the snot-encrusted walls of the Civic Auditorium for one final hockey game?

There is a simple solution for UNO here: get home ice and sweep the opponent to make MECA's screwup a moot point.

But really... how does an organization like MECA make a mistake like this?  Seriously.

UPDATE:  UNO has announced that if the Mavs host a series, the series would be played Thursday through Saturday.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sayonara, Omaha Civic Auditorium. It's time to move on.

The City of Omaha has officially started the process of replacing the outdated Civic Auditorium with something that will matter more in a 21st century downtown Omaha.  That's not to say that the Civic didn't serve it's purpose in it's day; numerous concerts, a 1988 vice-presidential debate, and countless sporting events. But now, it's not really needed anymore. The CenturyLink Center, when combined with the white elephant arenas in Council Bluffs and Ralston, made the Civic redundant, obsolete, and unneeded.

That doesn't mean unloved.  UNO hockey fans remember that "Tuesday Night" play-in game in March 2000.  Rock fans remember the days when the Civic was big enough to draw many of the big name names to town.  Not all of them, though. The biggest names stayed away, preferring to head to Lincoln's Devaney Center or Kansas City's Kemper Arena. (Of course, that was before the days of the massive stage show, which also made the Devaney Center obsolete since the wood floor couldn't accommodate most concert stages.)

And that's one of the big reasons why Omaha built the CenturyLink Center. We've gotten the big name shows that always passed Omaha by, like Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett. And even U2, which was the most amazing concert I've ever experienced. The "Clink" has drawn concerts to Omaha that previously passed Omaha by.  While the Civic was big enough for some acts, the biggest names always passed Omaha by, and it was because of the Civic.

Could the Civic have been used more over the last few years? Probably, but the lure of suites and club seating at the CenturyLink Center (not to mention the better acoustics) made that venue more inviting for most acts. Creighton decided to build their own small arena on campus for women's basketball and volleyball. MECA found a minor league hockey team to play there, but got saddled with the Calgary Flames organization.  The Flames' operation floundered as many expected until they hired Ren Smith to run the franchise. Then they promptly pulled the plug in Omaha, and moved the team to the Quad Cities (where they failed), then to Abbotsford, British Columbia (where they continue to struggle).

Some UNO fans wish the Mavs would have moved back to the Civic, though I'm not one of them. While the sightlines were great for a building that was never intended to house hockey, attendance was bad towards the end at the Civic.  Since moving out of the Civic, UNO games now average more fans than can ever fit in the old barn, which didn't have the now-basic amenities like a video screen.  (Of course, that doesn't explain why UNO is now building an arena even smaller than the Civic, but that's another debate for another time.)

With UNO's new arena as well as the failed Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, and the seemingly failing Ralston Arena, the Civic Auditorium doesn't serve any purpose any longer. There are better maintained facilities available with better amenities in the area. There's certainly no reason to spend any money to keep the Civic functioning, and it needs it.

It served it's purpose back in the day.  That day is over.  It's time to find another use for 18th & Capitol.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

When Chatelain Tries To Analyze, Misperceptions Arise

Earlier this week, the UNO Red Army became the latest to take offense to Omaha World-Herald feature writer Dirk Chatelain.

Truth be told, Chatelain is an award winning sports writer. And rightly so; he's written some amazing feature articles about the people who play the games.  Take his features on the relationship between Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown, UNO track star Sami Spenner (hey, NCAA: Let Sami Run!), and small town high school football. Great stuff.

But, as great as he is at writing stories about the people, he's a little less successful at analyzing the games themselves. Every so often, Chatelain breaks out a spreadsheet and tries to pretend to be Nate Silver, the statistical wizard who correctly predicted that Barack Obama would be re-elected in 2012. Unfortunately, his results turn out more like Mitt Romney's campaign team, who were convinced they were winning until the polls closed in California.

Most news organizations recognize the strengths of their talent and have them focus on what they do best.  ESPN doesn't send Jeremy Schaap to cover the Super Bowl, nor do they send Lee Corso to cover Missouri linebacker Michael Sam.

I'm reminded of his analysis from last year about recruiting within a 500 mile radius of Lincoln. I remember reading the article and asking at the time what it meant.  Frankly, nobody could really say, other than "Bo Pelini isn't doing it right."  So we looked at it the situation a little closer at CornNation, and found that, if anything, the 500 mile radius was a liability to Nebraska, as opposed to a missed opportunity.

I was reminded of this story recently with some updated information from Jeff Mason, who was working with 247 Sports, regarding recruits within 500 miles of Lincoln.

Pretty eyepopping numbers, but let's take the numbers even more general.  The CornNation team graphed the hometowns of each 1-A football scholarship recruit from the last dozen years, and the map is really, really stark.

Draw a line from Denver to Sioux Falls and then Minneapolis, and note the lack of players historically from those areas.  That is the Achilles heel of Nebraska and the 500 mile radius...there just aren't many players there.  Some would respond by saying that Nebraska should simply look south and east, but then other programs jump into competition.  As you get further and further away from Lincoln, the Huskers are then entering the sphere of influence for schools like Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin.

That, in a nutshell, tells the story about why Nebraska has to recruit differently. For unofficial visits, recruits have to pay their own way.  If they are within 500 miles, it can be a family trip via car.  When it gets longer, driving becomes less practical.  (And if you haven't noticed, airplane tickets are kind of expensive.)  So it shouldn't be a surprise that as more and more high school players commit after unofficial visits, Nebraska falls behind in the early stages of recruiting.

That's context that Chatelain glossed over in his story from last year.  It's not like this was an exception either; remember the whole "bench Taylor Martinez because Nebraska didn't have a backup quarterback in 2011" muddled mess?

So when I saw the Red Army take offense when Dirk forgot about UNO hockey in the discussion of local programs getting to the "Final Four" of their sport, I just have to shrug my head and say "consider the source."

Monday, February 10, 2014

How Does A Recruiting Disbeliever Survive National Signing Day?

It's nearly impossible to avoid recruiting hype anymore unless you fly off to a tropical island, it seems anymore. My first part of the plan was to not listen to sports talk radio.  Yep, no 1620 the Zone or 590 AM since last Tuesday.  Fortunately, SiriusXM has been running another free preview of satellite radio, which worked out great...except when Jimmy Buffet's "Why Don't We Get Drunk" came on with my four-year old son in the backseat.  That resulted in a quick scan to find another channel, but that's another topic entirely.

The internet was another matter entirely. Not going to web sites was easy, but how do you avoid it on Facebook and Twitter?  There's one solution, and it was harsh.  But the situation was desperate, and that called for drastic measures.

The Unfollow/Un-like option.

Yep.  I did a mass unfollow as the recruiting coverage began.  Bye-bye @Huskers.  So long @SamMcKewonOWH.  And yes, adios @CornNation - a site I even write for.

All told, I must have unfollowed nearly two dozen sources on Twitter on Wednesday. I'll probably start refollowing them this week.  Hopefully it shows up in their metrics, though that wasn't why I did it.  My reason is simple: I don't want to see it or read about it.  I simply don't care about it.   And apparently, I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Mavs Earn Split Against North Dakota on a Crazy Saturday Night

I didn't get to listen to the hockey game on Saturday night between UNO and North Dakota, and I only got to follow it on Twitter.  (And don't get me started on the lack of television coverage, either...)

But it sounds like it was a crazy night.  Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald summarized the start of the game in one overloaded tweet:
And it got even crazier.  North Dakota scored in the opening seconds of the second period, followed by an "own goal", when UNO's Brian O'Rourke knocked the puck past his own goalie.
But that's as far as it went, because UNO reversed the mojo and scored five unanswered goals to win 6-3.  Another UNO goal was waived off for goalie interference, while one of UNO's goals apparently was an "own goal" by North Dakota.

And that crazy finish just sets up what could be a crazy finish to the season.  Six of the eight NCHC teams are only 4 points apart.  St. Cloud State leads with 30 points, Minnesota-Duluth is second with 28.  UNO and North Dakota are tied with 27, with Denver and Western Michigan tied for fifth with 26 points.

Bottom line down the stretch is every win and loss is magnified down the stretch.  Sweep Denver this next weekend at home, and UNO could conceivably be in first place at the end of the weekend.  Get swept, and UNO could be in sixth place.

Crazy stuff.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Sami Spenner Case Shows NCAA Prioritizes "Athlete" Over "Student": #letSamiRun

The case of UNO track athlete Sami Spenner is a case of bureaucracy transcending and corrupting what's supposed to be the mission of college athletics. Spenner might be best summarized as the "accidental track champion". The Columbus native originally went to Wayne State to play volleyball, only to realize that wasn't what she wanted to do. So she transferred to UNO to pursue her career ambition, and decided to give track a chance. She had only run track her senior season at Columbus Scotus, but did fairly well in helping lead her team to a state championship.

She impressed everybody with her work ethic. And by the spring of 2011, she qualified for the division II nationals and finished fifth in the heptathlon.  That led to her next quandry:  UNO had already decided to make the jump from division II to division I.  In doing so, UNO had agreed to be ineligible for the NCAA championships during a four year transition.

Nobody really thought much about Spenner at that time; she was just a freshman that hadn't accomplished anything in college track.  But by last year, she was suddenly a national contender in division 1. Only problem? She was ineligible to compete at the NCAA track championships, even though she was ranked third nationally.  UNO tried to appeal to the NCAA, but the NCAA refused, saying that there was a lack of "extenuating circumstances."

UNO's decision to move to Division I was the right decision for the school. Football and wrestling fans will disagree, obviously. But UNO's finances are better as a division 1 school, and baseball and basketball have shown that they can compete at this level. Nobody anticipated that UNO would have an athlete contending for national honors like Spenner.

Fast forward to 2014, and Spenner is having a great indoor track season. Last week, she scored 4,406 in the pentathlon, which not only leads the U.S., but also ranks third in the world.  She's only the sixth collegiate athlete to ever top the 4,400 point mark in that event.

And she's still ineligible for the national championship.

I understand why the NCAA has their rules for schools transitioning to division 1.  They don't want schools to do this haphazardly, and it makes sense that teams are not eligible... even if four years might be a bit excessive.

This rule doesn't make sense when applied to the Spenner situation, though. Athletes qualify for the NCAA tournament on the basis of their individual performances.  And Spenner has clearly done that. But by insisting on a strict interpretation of a rule, the NCAA has marked themselves as an inept institution more concerned with their rules than their mission.
Spenner did have a choice in this matter. She could have transferred from UNO to another school and been immediately eligible to compete - and compete at nationals. But she chose to stay at UNO because of academics; UNO's exercise science program is highly regarded, and she had a 3.79 GPA at the end of last spring.

So why should an athlete have to choose between being a student and an athlete, especially when she's proven fully capable of doing both?
Will the NCAA change their mind and do the right thing? They've had several chances and refused to this point. The only way it happens is if the NCAA realizes just how embarrassing their actions have become. And that requires each of us to make sure the NCAA hears it.


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Worst Day of the Year

I love college football, and just about everything associated with it.

Except recruiting.

Call it a "necessary evil", if you will. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college athletic program; without players, there is no program. So recruiting is an important first step.  But that's all it is: a first step.

Nebraska fans should have learned a hard lesson from the Callahan years. Overemphasizing recruiting is counter productive. But it seems that many have chosen to forget those lessons.

I typically take this week off from blogging, but can't this year. Suffice to say my opinions about recruiting haven't changed.  I don't buy into the star ratings, and I certainly don't buy into the hype.

Even worse are the "fans" who think that interacting with recruits is a good idea.  Just look at some of the things that Husker "fans" said to Terrell Clinkscales after he flipped from Nebraska to Kansas State.  And if that's not enough, fans need to remember that it's an NCAA violation at it's core.
So yeah, I'm unplugging tomorrow. No Sharp and Benning on the drive into work; fortunately, SiriusXM is having another free preview. With all this snow, I'll probably flip to something to make me think warmer thoughts.  Maybe a hockey song...

Monday, February 03, 2014

Mavs Get Needed Split with St. Cloud State

Until this weekend, there wasn't much positive to say about UNO hockey over the last couple of month.  Mostly, that's the result of five bye-weeks over ten weeks. But only winning one game over that stretch also put a huge damper on enthusiasm. After a great run in November, the momentum ground to a halt, but on Saturday night against first-place St. Cloud State, UNO might be getting their legs back under them.

Friday night seemed to be more of the same.  The Mavs seemed to carry the play most of the night, only to have a key defensive breakdown result in the puck in the back of the net. They battled back to tie the game at the start of the third period, only to let the game-winner slip through off the faceoff with just over three minutes left in the game.

Saturday night, somebody lit a fire under the Mavs and they took an early 2-0 lead, only to surrender it with three more defensive breakdowns. After Jonno Davis' five minute major penalty, Josh Archibald left St. Cloud's Kalle Kossila uncovered in front of the net, and while UNO goalie Kirk Thompson stuffed Kossila's first three shots, the fourth one finally found the net.  Kossila scored again late in the period on another odd-man rush where UNO's defense failed them again.  It wasn't necessarily Thompson's fault, but Dean Blais pulled Thompson.  Blais might have otherwise, but I suspect the real reason was to shake up the defense.  In any event, the defense did play better.

More importantly, UNO was having their "puck luck" turn.  The shots that seemed to always end up finding a glove or a pad found the net as UNO scored early and often in an 8-6 victory against the sixth-ranked Huskies.  Did UNO find their scoring mojo on Saturday night?

One can only hope, because there are no more bye weeks left.  It's a tight race; UNO sits in a 3-way tie for second place with North Dakota and Denver, who the Mavs play the next two weekends.  These are borderline must-win games, because while they are only 2 points behind first place St. Cloud State, they are only four points ahead of sixth-place Western Michigan. With three points on the line each night, UNO needs to get a split against the former Sioux then take most of the points against Denver.