Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shouldn't Creighton Fans Have More Questions About the Baylor Blowout?

I don't follow Creighton basketball closely at all. I'm not a fan of the program, and I'm definitely not a fan of some of the come-lately fans on the Bluejay bandwagon. I haven't watched any Creighton games since the Nebraska game last December until turning on Sunday's NCAA tournament third round game against Baylor at halftime.

I thought about tweeting some snarky comments such as "#wraggeBricks" as the Bears began to pull away from the Bluejays, but held back. Guess I didn't see the point of trolling Creighton fans.

That didn't stop some Creighton fans from accusing Sam McKewon from the Omaha World-Herald of trolling them on Twitter after the game.

More specifically, he compared Creighton's loss to the 2012 Big Ten football championship game when #wisconsinScoresAgain.
Some thought that McKewon was suggesting that Creighton coach Greg McDermott should be fired, but that's not what McKewon was saying. Asking questions about why and how a team could flop on such a  massive scale isn't the same as putting a coach on the hot seat. That being said, some Husker fans escalated criticism to a call to fire Pelini - so I see where the connection was made.

Still, why aren't Creighton fans more upset? Frankly, it seems that they were expecting this to happen sooner rather than later, let alone never.
I heard similar reactions on the radio Monday morning. For having a two time all-American basketball player, not getting to the Sweet 16 at least once during his career would seem to be a major shortcoming. Their best shot might have been two years ago. And they might have had a chance if they hadn't chosen to goon things up that afternoon.

Or maybe McKewon wasn't so much questioning Creighton fans as much as questioning Husker fans reactions to the 2012 Big Ten Championship game. Yes, it was a brutal beatdown, but it's not like Husker fans weren't aware of Nebraska's defensive weaknesses. And fans who pay any attention to the program should have recognized that Pelini already had answers to those weaknesses in the pipeline. Even a guy like me that tries to ignore recruiting hype knew that Pelini had been actively recruiting to fill the holes that Wisconsin exploited.

Maybe Husker fan could learn a little bit from Creighton fan this week.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Requiem for UNO's Hockey Season

After UNO's 4-3 victory over Denver on Thursday night, I thought the Mavericks stood an excellent chance to finally break through and make it to the final weekend of their conference tournament.

But by Saturday night, the season was over. Denver won 5-1 on Friday night and 2-0 on Saturday night to finish off the Mavs season before the conference tournament's final weekend. Again.

UNO failed to qualify for the NCHC's Frozen Faceoff.  UNO never qualified for the WCHA's Final Five.  In fact, UNO hasn't been to the final weekend since the 2004-05 season in the CCHA.  Seriously.

And that raises the question that every UNO hockey fan should be asking themselves:

Why the hell has UNO not been able to make it to Detroit or Minneapolis for the nine straight seasons?

Don't rewrite that question as anything even approaching "Fire Dean Blais"; that's a quick kneejerk response from wanna-be-George Steinbrenner's whenever a team underperforms. It's a more general question: what's holding UNO back?

UNO made it to Joe Louis Arena in the program's third season, and first in the CCHA. After the St. Patrick's Day Massacre of Michigan, the Mavs played for the CCHA title. They haven't been close ever since.

UNO has a coach with a national championship pedigree in Dean Blais. Why hasn't he been able to make it out of the first round of the playoffs?

Some people (all outside of Omaha, mind you) wonder if the game has passed Blais by. If that was the case, Blais wouldn't be continuously raiding Minnesota's best talent. He did it again last week. Heck, Blais' story is strong enough that it's caught the attention of Minneapolis TV.

So I'm going to set that idea aside for now.  And frankly, I'm not sure there is a big picture solution that's staring me in the face. UNO's 2013-14 season ended primarily because they hit a red-hot goaltender in Sam Brittain. Brittain ranks second nationally in save percentage (.934). And when it comes playoff time, teams really need solid goaltending. And up to now, I don't think Blais has been able to find that goalie just yet. I wonder if he thought that Anthony Stolarz was going to be that goalie, only to have him bail after just one semester.

This season wasn't helped by the ugly Old Market incident that resulted in senior captain Matt White being dismissed from the team. That certainly gave the media enough pause to predict UNO to finish dead last in the NCHC this season. And despite that, UNO did finish a very respectable third place in the regular season.

But again, one weekend later, the season is over, and UNO fans need to at least ask what's wrong with the program. It could very well be that Blais has UNO on the right track. While UNO will lose six seniors including Ryan Walters, who'll get some Hobey Baker award attention, there's a core group that'll be a good focal point for next season. I do suspect that junior Josh Archibald, who broke UNO's season scoring record this year, will turn pro.  But I like the freshmen, and the depth of the incoming class is impressive. I'm also reminded about how early recruiting begins now, with players being targeted in eighth and ninth grade. In that light, it may be that Blais' recruiting efforts may just now be beginning to bear fruit.  (As the Minneapolis media have noted.)

There's one more item that I wonder about. UNO has long been hampered by the lack of a practice facility near campus, and that's one of the things that's included in the new UNO arena project. It's a project I've been long critical of as a huge mistake for UNO.  I believe that it's too small, and too expensive for what it brings UNO. My mind on that has not changed one bit.

That being said, UNO needs that practice facility, and maybe that is, in fact, the compelling reason to build this thing. Nevermind that it's smaller than the average UNO hockey crowd. Nevermind that I still don't understand how UNO makes an arena work when the Mid America Center in Council Bluffs and the new Ralston Arena apparently struggle financially.

Maybe the arena doesn't make financial sense at all. Maybe it simply makes hockey sense.  Is UNO hockey's real problem that there is no on-campus facility that allows players to practice at more convenient times and not have to drive all over town to get there?

I don't have the answers. I'm just raising the questions. Because frankly, these premature endings of seasons have gotten old.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Doyel Spotlights the Other Side of Bo Pelini

On the football field, Bo Pelini can act like a lunatic at times. We've all seen it; in fact, thanks to instant replay and games televised with a dozen or cameras, we see it over and over again. Even though he's improved his demeanor a bit, every so often his fury is unleashed again.

I call it Pelini's passion gone way overboard. I think he recognizes he goes too far at times.  It's a reputation he's earned. What isn't earned is the perception that the way he acts on the sideline is the way he acts off the field. People wonder why anybody would want to play for a coach who acts like that.

I don't know Bo Pelini. I haven't met the guy outside the football field, so I don't have any first-hand knowledge of how he acts away from the field.  I do know one thing, and that is that by and large, his players love Bo Pelini. Almost without exception, every player past and present has glowing things to say about their relationship with Pelini. (I'm sure there are a few exceptions, nobody can please everybody.) But for the most part, Pelini is highly regarded by the people he has dealt with over the years.

Gregg Doyel's column on Pelini gave people another example of that "other" Pelini that many people either aren't aware of, or just ignore. It's an outstanding look at the two sides to the Nebraska football coach.  I thought it was a great article when I first read it, then I went through and started clicking on the links. And suddenly came across this line:
And here come the stories this spring, just as they were written last spring, and Pelini doesn't know what to make of it all.
And the OMG moment as I suddenly found myself re-reading my own article from last spring about people's misperceptions of Bo Pelini. (Is it cool when you see your work referenced like this? Absolutely!)

Does this really change the perception of Bo Pelini? It does a little, but the truth is, what matters more are getting Nebraska to fewer than four losses in a season. Quite a few coaches blow a gasket on the sideline, but everybody, barring some sort of physical assault, forgives it as long as the coach wins.  Bo Pelini's record is good, but at a place like Nebraska, nine or ten wins each and every season just isn't quite good enough. At 100 schools, Pelini's record would be good enough. But not at Nebraska.  I get that.

I also know that Pelini has put together great defenses, and had teams that ave had great offenses.  I'm not ready to pull the plug on Pelini; I still think that's premature. Some coaches simply need time. Certainly Pete Carroll wasn't a successful coach right off the bat. Neither was Nick Saban.  So I'm willing to be patient with a coach like Pelini. We all know that Nebraska can do far worse than Pelini.

One thing that I find very curious is how much more vilified Pelini is for actions far less egregious than other coaches.  Take Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery, who regularly blows his stack on the sideline, and typically gets a free pass on it.
In fact, after McCaffery bumped a ref earlier this season and had to be physcially restrained, Iowa fans insisted that Pelini's hat swipe was somehow worse.

The thing is...both are bad.  (This year's #frantrum was worse, mind you.)  I don't know about McCaffery, but I do know this about Pelini, he's getting better at his sideline demeanor (Iowa game aside), and I believe he's sincere in wanting it to be better.  And I think he's getting better as a coach.

And if articles like this help calm some of the misperceptions about Pelini's temper, it's a good thing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

UNO Hockey Once Again An Afterthought In the Local Media This Weekend

UNO split their final series with Minnesota-Duluth this weekend, earning them a home best-of-three series with Denver starting this Thursday night. The die-hard UNO fans know it and can hardly wait for UNO's first home playoff series since 2011. (The fact that it's not against Bemidji and their kryponite neutral zone trap is a bonus.)

The rest of the local sports fans? Well, they really had to pay attention to know about it. Granted, there were some really, really big things that happened locally in sports. Creighton's Doug McDermott tops 3,000 career points in his final basketball game in Omaha. Nebrasketball finishes their incredible February surge with a huge upset of #9 Wisconsin, almost assuring them an NCAA tournament berth.  And the Husker women won the Big Ten women's basketball tournament.

So I knew that UNO wouldn't get front page treatment in this morning's Omaha World-Herald.  The first two pages were devoted to Creighton and Dougie.  Fair enough; he earned it. But UNO was notably missing from page 3, which was the quasi-front page of the Sports section.  Well, the Husker men and women deserved prime treatment.  But there also was a blurb about a Millard West football player committing to Harvard, and a preview of the Nebraska Girls State High School basketball tournament coverage.  Hmmm.

Page 4? Well, lots of sports briefs along with coverage of the Big Ten and Big Eight wrestling tournament.  Still no UNO hockey, though UNO softball gets a mention for getting a split at Colorado State's tournament.  But we get the World Herald's wacky sports comedy column, a rehash of a week of Mike'l Severe's new online call-in show, and the World-Herald's big reach around as they congratulate themselves for winning a few awards.

Page 5, certainly.  Nope, that's the start of a four page special pull-out section on the girls state basketball tournament.  And to make it a pullout, it covers the next three pages as well.

So you guessed it... UNO hockey finally shows up on Page NINE of the daily fishwrap.

Nine. I'm not going to argue that UNO deserved coverage ahead of the basketball games...even the Husker women.  It was a Big Ten championship for the Husker ladies, even though UNO hockey draws more fans.  But shouldn't UNO hockey have been mentioned along side that?

I go back to the Minneapolis comparison. If anything, they've got even more on their plate than the World-Herald with the NBA and NHL along side college sports and the Minnesota Twins in spring training.  There's a way to cover everything and give every sport their due.

It wasn't just the World-Herald dropping the ball.  On Saturday night, KETV Channel 7 did offer highlights of UNO's game in Duluth.  We saw UNO's first goal, and then Duluth scoring the tying goal in the first period.  And then the final score:  UNO 4, Minnesota-Duluth 1.  Ten frigging seconds of highlights.

I guess they tried. Just not very well.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Why Did UNO Hockey Get More Coverage on Minneapolis TV Instead of Omaha This Week?

One of the more frustrating things for UNO hockey fans to deal with is the dearth of coverage in the local media. I certainly understand where it starts; Nebraska football is clearly the topic that drives the conversation in sports locally. This winter, add in Creighton basketball's dream season and Nebrasketball's meteoric rise into contention for an NCAA tournament bid (despite being picked to finish dead last in the Big Ten), and you have to expect those stories to get plenty of coverage. And deservedly so.

This isn't so much about this season; it's always been a problem, even in those seasons when Creighton and Nebraska were NIT-quality teams at best. UNO hockey is frequently seen as an afterthought by many in the local media; a niche sport barely worth mentioning. Of course, that "niche" sport frequently has been known to outdraw the more established sports at times, so that's not a valid excuse. But it's a perception, and perceptions become reality, whether valid or not.

So UNO hockey fans sometimes have to be happy to get the coverage they get.  UNO's sweep of Colorado College to move to just one game out of first place in the NCHC got page five treatment in Sunday's World-Herald this week. Fine. Nebraska's victory over Northwestern was front-page worthy. So was Creighton's collapse at Xavier.  Same song, different verse.

But this week, my acceptance of the status quo was shaken up with the following tweet:

WCCO-TV in Minneapolis sent a crew to Omaha to learn why four of Minnesota's top ten high school hockey players have committed to UNO.  It's a great feature on UNO hockey, focusing on the pedigree of Dean Blais' coaching staff and the fact that UNO ranks fourth nationally in college hockey attendance.

Only one of the 10 Mr. Hockey finalists is staying in state at St. Cloud State.
So why can’t Minnesota schools get them to stay?
“Dean Blais isn’t here in Minnesota. I think if Dean Blais was in any one of those institutions that might make them an instant player for some of those kids,” said Ken Pauly.
As I watch the interviews with Eden Prarie's Luc Snuggerud and Steve Spinner, the little voice in the back of my mind keeps reminding me that this story is on a MINNEAPOLIS TV STATION WEB SITE.  They sent a camera crew to Omaha.  They sat down for interviews with UNO coaches and players.
Over four minutes of coverage of UNO hockey.  On a friggin' Minneapolis television station.  Not an Omaha television station or the Omaha World-Herald.

How does this happen?  I suspect that if you checked  the four local television stations, their combined coverage of UNO hockey the last week wouldn't add up to four minutes, and almost all of that would have been highlights from the previous weekend.

I understand the focus on Nebrasketball and Creighton this week. It's a story that needs to be covered. But at the same time, Minneapolis television just made it crystal clear that the Omaha media is neglecting stories right underneath their own nose.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

UNO Sweeps Colorado College with 2-1 Overtime Victory

Senior defenseman Michael Young's goal just 55 seconds into overtime gave UNO a 2-1 victory over Colorado College. The weekend sweep of the Tigers moved the Mavs into sole possession of third place, and virtually assured UNO of home ice in the first round of the NCHC playoffs in two weeks.

Thanks to multiple accidents on Interstate 80 last evening, we were late arriving to the game, and missed Colorado College's goal just 35 seconds into the game.  UNO tied the game midway through the first period with a power play goal by Jake Guentzel, but from there, both goalies held firm.  UNO had multiple opportunities to win the game late in the third period, with Ryan Walters narrowly missing on a breakaway attempt with just under two minutes in regulation, then Dominic Zombo unable to take advantage of an out-of-position CC goalie Josh Thorimbert a few seconds later.

But UNO kept the pressure up in overtime to secure the six point weekend.  UNO now trails North Dakota and St. Cloud State by one game going into the final weekend of the season.  If UNO can sweep fourth-place Minnesota Duluth on the road this weekend, the Mavs have a chance to finish the season tied for first place if both North Dakota (at home against Western Michigan) and St. Cloud State (on the road at Colorado College) can only manage weekend splits.

To maintain home ice, UNO just needs one point - either by them or North Dakota.  It would take sweeps by both Duluth and Western Michigan (at North Dakota) to put the Mavs on the road for the first round of the playoffs. So is UNO rooting for the Sioux? Probably not, because if Western Michigan can somehow pull off a sweep, UNO could claim a regular season title.

The standings are pretty tight from positions one through six only being about three games apart, so UNO's opponent for the playoffs won't be known until after next Saturday night's games. The most likely opponents would be Denver, who hosts last place Miami, or Western Michigan.  That series would begin on Thursday, March 13th, thanks to MECA's Demi Lovato concert, which was somehow scheduled for Sunday night.  Games two and three would be Friday and Saturday night (if necessary).

The postgame celebration at the CenturyLink Center with fans: