Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sadly, Baxter Arena Gets More Attention than the #1 Ranked UNO Hockey Team That Plays There

Last Friday night, I attended UNO hockey's debut at the new Baxter Arena.  Afterwards, most of the buzz was about the new building.

I left more impressed with the product on the ice than the building that they play in.

There are a lot of things to like about the new building:  great sightlines and an environment optimized for a crowd of 7,000 fans.  You've got the modern amenities that an arena built today requires: suites for the people funding the building, press facilities to support television and radio, a high tech scoreboard and ribbon boards, and wireless internet access that worked really well (unlike the wifi at Memorial Stadium).  Nice touches, such as bench seating for the students (to squeeze a few more in and encourage them to stand and cheer) and UNO themed art in the concourses.  With the lower ceiling and the lack of sound baffling for concerts, it's louder than a similarly sized crowd at the CenturyLink Center.  Louder than most nights at the Civic as well, I might add.

But it's got it's issues.  There isn't enough parking (all full 45 minutes before faceoff) and the concourses are cramped (I missed the post-game celebration with the team since I couldn't get to the lobby in time). Leg room is lacking, and I spent more time letting people pass me in my aisle in one game than the last two seasons downtown. (That's a product of the cramped facilities in the concourses, as people end up having to miss the action.)

The parking situation might work itself out over time; I headed across the street and parked at Aksarben Village - and frankly, ended up closer to the arena than the far UNO lot. I didn't notice the environment before the game that much; I was in a rush to get to the game, but afterwards, I couldn't help but notice how cool it is to have bars and restaurants adjacent to the arena. It's similar to what I've noticed downtown at TD Ameritrade Park during the College World Series or Nebraska baseball games. (And reminds me of the opportunity missed to have minor league baseball downtown all summer long, but that's another story entirely.) Some people will start gravitating to the Village for the amenities and closer parking, which might solve this issue as people work into a routine.

But really, the new building almost seemed to be a distraction from the real story: UNO hockey looks pretty damn good and as deserving as any team at this point to be ranked #1 in the nation.  The biggest question going into this season was goaltending, and Kirk Thompson looked pretty darn solid Friday night. I missed Saturday night's game (a late scratch due to hyperactive kids), but by all accounds, true freshman Evan Weninger has been just as clutch.  UNO's top line combo of Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega is going to contend for national honors this season.  And freshman Steven Spinner delighted fans with a fantastic spin-move (pun intended) on a breakaway for UNO's final goal on Friday night.

UNO's 6-0 start is only the beginning of what could be a very special season for Maverick hockey. The November and December schedules are fairly light with home games, with the core of the home schedule coming after the holidays.

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