Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Change in Direction

You may have noticed a decrease in my blogging in recent months, and frankly, I owe my infrequent readers a bit of an explanation. The short answer is that I simply don't have as much time to do this as I once did.

I always thought after the kids got past diapers and 3 am feedings that I'd have more time. And I did...for a while. Then elementary school hit, and suddenly there were hockey and dance lessons, scouts and homework.

I tried squeezing in blogging at lunch time and after the kids went to bed. But after a while, I realized that I simply couldn't keep up the pace. It didn't help that I started to get a "writers block". Finally, I realized I had to make some choices.

And I picked my family.

So I've weaned down my blogging both here and at CornNation. I just finally accepted that I can't blog multiple times a week, work full time and take care of my family.

I'm not going away; I'll still contributing here and at CornNation. But it'll be on MY terms. Many so called "social media gurus" think you have to post frequently and regularly. They have a point, but a bigger point is that you shouldn't post when you don't have something interesting to post. People don't unfollow you because you don't post; they only unfollow you when you post things that aren't interesting.

Quality counts far more than quantity. So I'm not going to blog anymore just to meet some quota set by somebody else. I'm going to blog about what I want to say, and on my schedule.

That, in turn, means I'm going to also blog more often about non-sports topics. I'm sure some of you will tell me to "stick to sports." That's your right.

But it's my blog. I'm going to write what I want to write about. Disagree if you wish; this is still America, the last I checked. Maybe we'll have a civil conversation in the comments. Maybe even understand other perspectives instead of resorting to name calling. (Is that even possible anymore?)

The sports talk isn't going away; it's just not going to be forced.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Who Will Replace Dean Blais at UNO?

Deep down, I knew it probably was coming.  I hoped it wouldn't, but I had that feeling that Dean Blais wasn't going to return behind the bench for UNO hockey.  My emotions ran the gamut:  disappointment that he wouldn't be back, anger at the fans that turned on a coach that two years ago put UNO on the biggest stage in college hockey, gratefulness that Blais took a chance on UNO and elevated the program.

And perhaps more importantly: concerned about who will take over.  I'm sure there are more candidates out there than this, but I'll throw three names out there who should be considered...and one who absolutely should not be considered in 2017.

Mike Guentzel
I had Guentzel on my short list in 2009, and I have no reason to not put him back again in 2017. Many people have him as the heir apparent to Minnesota's Don Lucia; eight years ago, it looked like Lucia might eventually wear out his welcome in the Twin Cities, but now it looks like Lucia will be a Gopher as long as he wants.  And since Guentzel is just four years younger than Lucia, there's not much reason for Guentzel to wait if he wants to be a head coach.  Guentzel is a former Lancer head coach, and was an assistant under Blais in 2010.  His son Jake was born in Omaha (when Mike was the head Lancer), and played at UNO from 2013 through last season.  You may remember Mike's reaction in November when Jake scored his first NHL goal on his very first shift for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Hastings
Eight years ago, I thought that Hastings wasn't qualified to be the UNO head coach. I wasn't even sure he was ready to be the "heir apparent" at that point.  But I did say this at that time:
Hastings might look like the slam dunk candidate when that time comes, but for now, it's just unnecessary speculation. Especially after the absurd rumors from this past winter that Hastings would take over as UNO head coach. 
 Well, now Hastings has nine years of college experience, including four as the head coach of Minnesota State-Mankato. He's got the qualifications now.  Would he want to return to Omaha?  Who knows, but considering that Hastings was making $290,000 two seasons ago, he'd probably have to be offered more money than Dean Blais.  And that might be a tough sell given UNO's financial issues.

Cary Eades
This is an outlier name here for sure, but the connections are strong.  Eades spent 15 years as an assistant at North Dakota and has been a head coach in the USHL, winning championships with Dubuque, Sioux Falls and Fargo. He's been a winner wherever he's gone.

Now, the name who really shouldn't be considered: Mike Gabinet. Nostalgic fans remember Gabinet wearing the crimson and black from 2000 through 2004, and want the best for him.  But he's only been coaching since 2012, and up until this season, all have been in Canada. Yes, he's undefeated as a head coach, going 36-0 last season as the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology head coach.  But that's Canadian college hockey. He doesn't have the recruiting connections to college hockey.

Hockey is not like the other sports at UNO.  In the Summit League, UNO can take a chance on a young coach because the competition level just isn't there.  When South Dakota State captured the Summit League's autobid into the NCAA Tournament, the Jackrabbits were awarded a #16 seed and get to play Gonzaga in the first round.  That's where the Summit League is at; it's a low division 1 conference.

Hockey plays in the NCHC, which is arguably like the SEC was in college football. Remember when Skip Bayless tried to argue that four SEC West schools should make the college football playoff?  Well, the NCHC could actually do something close in college hockey.  The NCAA uses the PairWise rankings to select and seed the teams in the hockey tournament, and three of the top four seeds are NCHC schools:  #1 Denver, #2 Minnesota-Duluth and #4 Western Michigan.  And it's not just this season:  the NCHC has put two teams in the Frozen Four the previous two seasons as well.

You are going to throw a coach into this conference with almost no experience coaching at this level? That's simply absurd. It would be a great story if Gabinet was retained by the next UNO head coach, but if UNO has any intention of taking hockey seriously, he can't be a serious candidate.

Monday, March 13, 2017

UNO Hockey Needs Solutions, Not Scapegoats

Two years ago, UNO shocked the college hockey world by advancing to the NCAA Frozen Four. It seemed like the Mavs were on top of the world, and headed for greatness.

Well, that didn't happen.  After a hot start to the season that saw UNO ranked #1 in the nation in October, things cratered after New Years. The Mavs finished the season with eight straight losses, albeit against top ten opponents.

Sunday night, #7 Western Michigan beat UNO 2-1 in overtime to end the Mavs 2016-17 season. The UNO/Western Michigan playoff series was the only one that went three games.  Still, it was yet another season that found UNO hockey missing the conference semifinals.

Frustrating? Infuriating?  Exasperating?  Pick your emotion. But then acknowledge that it's just that: an emotional reaction.

There is real danger in reacting emotionally instead of rationally in these situations.  Should UNO hockey be better than this?  Yes.  But the real question is: how does that happen?

Eight years ago, UNO tried to get better in hockey. Hired a guy who won two national championships with North Dakota.  And UNO did get better.

But it's not good enough. Sure, UNO made the NCAA tournament in 2011 and the Frozen Four in 2015, but still hasn't made it to the conference semifinals in 2001.  That's not all on Dean Blais; the first eight go on Mike Kemp's record.  I get the frustration that Blais hasn't been able to get this program to Minneapolis.  I understand it; I share in it.

But here's my question: if Dean Blais and his resume couldn't fix UNO hockey, who can?

UNO athletics has some major problems right now, thanks to the ill-fated decision to build Baxter Arena. You know, the arena that was supposed to fix UNO's budget woes has instead magnified them. So now UNO can't offer cost of attendance scholarships and can't afford for the men's basketball team to participate in a postseason tournament.

Dean Blais ruffled feathers around Omaha by publicly raising questions about the long-term vision for the program as the season started.  Now the season is over; will Blais head off to his fishing hole in Minnesota?  And if that happens, who takes his place?

It'll be tough to find a better coach than Dean Blais, though maybe a fresh face might work. College Hockey News suggests that Mike Guentzel, a current Minnesota assistant, would be a good choice. I'd agree. But considering UNO's financial woes, Guentzel might not be interested in taking this job, especially if UNO isn't able to pay the going rate for a head coach. Don't laugh; it seems to be happening in other sports at UNO, where the trend is to promote young assistants at bargain salaries as of late. That's led to a suspicion by some that UNO will do the same thing in hockey with Mike Gabinet.

And if UNO tries to pull that stunt with their flagship sport, it might make more sense to just shut down the hockey program instead.  Seriously.  If Dean Blais couldn't fix this, how does an assistant who only has four previous years of experience in Canada fix it.  Giving the head coaching job to someone like that is basically admitting that UNO isn't even going to try anymore.

UNO needs to find solutions to their problems. Blaming Dean Blais isn't going to make things better.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Am I The Last UNO Fan Who Hasn't Given Up on Hockey?

Somehow, I get this feeling that I'm in the minority of UNO fans when I say that I'm still looking for something out of the Mavericks' hockey team this weekend. Many, it seems, have long turned the page to other sports.  The men's basketball team nearly grabbed an NCAA tournament berth in the Summit League championship game Tuesday night, losing 79-77.  It was a pretty good game to watch, but once Mike Daum buried a three point shot with a minute and a half left, the air left the Mavs' sails.

Basketball was a great story, and validates Trev Alberts' 2011 decision to move UNO up from division II to division I in all sports. They play a fast-paced exciting brand of basketball, and have pulled off their share of upsets.  (Helllloooooooooooooo Iowa!)  Now it's onto the NIT or some other postseason tournament.

That shouldn't take away from UNO's flagship sport:  hockey. UNO's horrific home record in the last year and a half since moving from the CenturyLink Center to "The Mistake" certainly is reason to doubt the future of the hockey program.  Only winning eight out of their last 28 home games raises serious questions about the building.

UNO won't be playing at Baxter Arena anymore this season.  And that's a good thing.  Weird thing is that for as bad as UNO hockey has been at home, they've been more than inversely good on the road.  That 6-10-2 home record flips to 10-5-3 when UNO leaves town.  Basically, UNO wins two out of every three games away from home.

Win two out of three? That's what UNO hockey needs to do this weekend against Western Michigan on the road.  One of those home wins was against Western Michigan a month ago, and in the other game, UNO had a lead with six minutes left before giving up two late goals to Griffen Molino.

Bottom line is that there's no reason not to think that UNO hockey can finally win a playoff series and get to the NCHC semifinals in Minneapolis. And if they get those wins, I suspect they'll move into bubble territory in the PairWise rankings with those wins over the fourth ranked Broncos.  They'll probably have to make it to the conference title game to make the NCAA tournament, but that's not out of line.  UNO has played better as of late against tough competition ever since Dean Blais started benching upperclassmen who were coasting along this season.  Except for a lousy first period two weeks ago against North Dakota, UNO has looked like a tournament hockey team.

And if they do that this week, they'll move on.  And who knows what happens after that.  Win and advance.

I haven't given up.  Neither should you.