Sunday, March 29, 2015

UNO Hockey is "Shippin' Up to Boston" For the Frozen Four

Nineteen years ago, Don Leahy made the call that started it all.  The University of Nebraska Omaha would start an NCAA Division 1 hockey program.  He hired Mike Kemp to make it reality. In October 1997, the Mavs hit the ice at the Civic Auditorium to the thunderous chant of U! N! O!

Two years later, UNO uses a late Jeff Hoggan goal to defeat Bowling Green in the CCHA play-in game to advance to the CCHA semi-finals in their first season of eligibility. Three nights after that, UNO smokes Michigan in the "St. Patrick's Day Massacre" to get a chance to play for the conference title.

Since that time, UNO has had it's moments.  A Hobey Baker finalist in Scott Parse. NCAA berths in 2006 and 2011.  But a last place finish in their first season at the CenturyLink Center. Failing to make it to the conference tournament final weekend for ten years.  Michigan stealing the 2011 NCAA tournament game with a fraudulent call.

Nancy Belck and Jim Buck's mismanagement of the program put the future of the entire UNO athletic department in jeopardy. In steps Trev Alberts, who'd never been an administrator before, to try and clean up the mess. He promoted Kemp to be his assistant athletic director, and asked him to pick his successor as head coach.  Kemp pointed to Dean Blais, and Trev somehow made it happen.

Blais, the North Dakota legend, had the resume... and we were sure UNO was off to the stratosphere in hockey.  We thought it was 2011 until "not a goal" happened. We kept hoping.  I knew someday it would happen.

Tonight, it finally happened. In many respects, missing out on last weekend's NCHC Frozen Faceoff probably was a good thing. UNO had limped through the last month of the season without captain Dominic Zombo.  Then goalie Ryan Massa tweaked his knee prior to the final regular season game.  Things looked really bleak when St. Cloud State swept the Mavs two weeks ago.

Sometimes it's darkest before the dawn.

Fast forward to tonight. Ryan Massa was, well, magical against RIT in pitching a shutout. Dominic Zombo returned to the ice, and while he may not be 100% physically, he was 200% in effort. Twice in the third period, ESPNU's  announcers noted Zombo making hit after hit on the ice. And those freshmen...oh those freshmen. Luc Snuggerud feeding the puck to Jake Randolph for the golden goal.  David Pope with the final goal.  Super sophomores Austin Ortega and Justin Parizek with the second and third goals to give UNO some breathing room.

UNO advances to the Frozen Four at Boston's TD Garden on Thursday, April 9 against Providence, who's campus is just 50 miles to the south.  Win in that early game, and UNO advances to play either North Dakota (in a rematch of that epic series at the end of January) or Boston University (who smoked UNO in 2006).

It's going to take some time for all this to sink in.  Right now, it's just time to celebrate. Queue up your accordions, folks!

Win, Lose, or Draw, Everyone for Omaha, We Will Fight For U! N! O!
A video posted by Omaha Mavericks (@omavs) on

1 comment:

riff1006 said...

Great game! I felt they were being outplayed in the 1st, only to step it up for the remainder. I moved away from Omaha years ago and have only heard, but never seen, that the Mavs could play. It was great to be able to watch a game on ESPN, and to some degree, re-live my enjoyment of hockey after growing up watching the Knights.