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.


Hockey Tony said...

Just curious as to why you would consider Mike Gabinet "a stunt"? Hadn't he had some outstanding teams in Canada? It would seem that when he returned to Omaha it was with the assumption that he would one day be the head coach. Otherwise why would he have left a very good situation in Alberta?

Husker Mike said...

Gabinet has ONE year of head coaching experience, in Canada. And one year as an NCAA assistant coach.

Simply put, there are far more qualified candidates out there to pursue.