Thursday, March 28, 2013

UNO's 2013-14 Hockey Schedule Comes In Two Parts

The NCHC released the inaugural schedule for all eight hockey teams in the new conference, and UNO's  schedule is quite the dandy.  The biggest observation is that UNO has a three week holiday break, with no games scheduled between December 7th and January 3rd.  Before that holiday break is surrounded by road trips on both the front and back, plus another bye week on Thanksgiving weekend.

That's seven weeks without a home game.  UNO plays Miami on November 22nd and 23rd, then doesn't play again in Omaha until January 10th.  I've never seen a schedule like that; in fact, it's almost like UNO has two separate seasons scheduled this upcoming winter.

November's schedule is quite impressive.  A three-week stretch of home games against North Dakota, Michigan, and Miami.  You have to expect the NoDak fans to flock down I-29 for this series, which will run Saturday/Sunday to allow Creighton to open their basketball season on Friday night.  Only one game conflicts with a Husker home game; on November 16th, the Huskers host Michigan State while UNO plays Michigan.  The Huskers travel to Michigan for football on the North Dakota weekend and travel to Penn State on the Miami weekend.

The second half schedule is a little lighter with Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Denver, and Colorado College coming to Omaha.  No marquee names to the casual sports fan, but you do have have recent national champion and two NCAA tourney teams from this season in the mix.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Heartwarming Article Highlights What Dirk Chatelain Does Best

I've long been a critic of some of Dirk Chatelain's "analysis" work in the World-Herald, but his Sunday profile of Howell's Matthew Gooch shows that he's a talented writer. Something that I've long been guilty of forgetting at times. It's easy to do when Chatelain goes off the deep end with his "bench Taylor Martinez even though Nebraska doesn't really have a backup" or "Creighton vs. Wichita State is the biggest basketball game ever at the CenturyLink Center" opinions.  Or "Nebraska football's biggest problem in 2012 was turnovers on offense."

But I was reminded of what Chatelain does well a few weeks ago when he reminisced about the 1989 Nebraska state high school basketball tournament, when Wahoo beat Lincoln Pius X and Millard South beat Columbus in back-to-back classic games.  I thought back and remembered Chatelain's great 2011 feature on Ameer Abdullah and Ron Brown, and how they coexist despite their differences in religion.

Some people like Chatelain's statistical analysis, but I still struggle to understand why. Take Chatelain's look at Nebraska's recruiting of football players within a 500 mile radius. A lot of people loved the article, but I didn't understand the point of it.  I asked several times for those people who loved Chatelain's analysis what we should have learned from it, and nobody could actually tell me what that would be.  Nobody wanted to actually come out and say it, but it seemed to come down to Chatelain's ongoing vendetta with Bo Pelini.  Pelini's not getting the talent regionally, so this must be yet another thing that Pelini is screwing up.

Except the data actually shows that the issue is more about the relative lack of talent within 500 miles of Lincoln. But you didn't read THAT in the World-Herald.

It really makes me wonder why the World-Herald keeps pushing Chatelain to write statistical analysis pieces. Maybe it's because that's what Chatelain likes to do.  Maybe because it's because it gets people talking and draws eyeballs to the World-Herald and it's web site.

It's not because he's very good at the actual analysis.

There's nothing wrong with saying Chatelain is a fine feature writer. There's room in the World-Herald, and in journalism in general, for a good story to be told.  And this week, he showed that he can find a great story to tell.  He should be doing that more. 

Most news organizations, especially the ones that cover sports, assign people to roles that match their strengths. Some people do a great job with X's and O's.  Some people do a great job with analysis.  Some people are strong with statistics.  And some people are great interviewers.  ESPN doesn't assign Jeremy Schaap to game coverage, because that's not his strength.  ESPN doesn't ask Shelley Smith to analyze the zone read or to discuss the difference between the Big Ten and the SEC.

So why doesn't someone at the World-Herald ask Chatelain to focus on what he does best, and to stop doing things he's just not very good at?  Are they that addicted to the page-hits that Chatelain's misanalysis creates that they are willing to put an inferior product out?  It was pretty eye-opening in October when Sam McKewon had no recollection of Chatelain's comments from the UCLA game a few weeks earlier.

That speaks volumes to me about what the rest of the World-Herald's staff REALLY thinks about Dirk Chatelain's analytical work.  If they don't think it's worth reading, it's probably not fit for publication.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

UNO's Hockey Season Finishes It's Crash Landing

Disappointed?  Yes.  Surprised? No.  I suspect that's the reaction of most Maverick hockey fans to Sunday's season ending 3-1 loss to Minnesota State.  Two months ago, UNO sat atop the WCHA standings, but fell apart in the final weeks.  UNO lost ten out of their final 13 games, and dreams of playing for a conference and national title are long gone.

UNO never once qualified for the WCHA's "Final Five" tournament in St. Paul; they are the only WCHA school to not make it to the Exel Energy Center during those three years.  In fact, UNO's last playoff tournament appearance was in 2005.

Hard to believe that UNO's first season in a conference is still the best March the Mavericks have ever had.  After upsetting Northern Michigan in a three game series, UNO returned home to play an unexpected play-in quarterfinal game against Bowling Green.  That legendary "Tuesday Night" game against Bowling Green might have been one of the Civic Auditorium's greatest nights.  Three days later, UNO knocked off Michigan in the "St. Patrick's Day Massacre", sending the Cinderella Mavericks to the CCHA Championship game.  The clock struck midnight that night; Sparty shut out the Mavs 6-0.  And that's as close as UNO has come to a conference title.

It's not like Dean Blais doesn't know how to win championships; he won two national titles in ten years at North Dakota.  But something hasn't clicked in Omaha the last two seasons.

Or did UNO's first half performance give fans an unrealistic expectation for this season?  UNO was picked to finish eighth in the preseason coaches and media polls.  They finished seventh.  So they exceeded expectations.  Slightly.  But oh, so much more was possible.

So now Dean Blais has to sit down and figure out what went wrong in the last month and a half, and find a solution. He'll have to do that without defenseman Andrej Sustr, who's headed for the NHL.  That's should not be a shock to anybody; NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire began touting Sustr for the bigs back in October.  Sounds like there is a good chance that junior Matt White could turn pro as well.  But could Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Walters return?
So thus ends UNO's brief stay in the WCHA.  Now things get serious in the NCHC, where there won't be any nights off.  Yes, Minnesota and Wisconsin are off the schedule.  So is the Kryptonite from Bemidji State.  But there aren't any Michigan Techs or Alaska-Anchorages on the conference schedule anymore either.

One of these days, UNO will play in a conference tournament in the Twin Cities.  Lets just hope it's sooner rather than later.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

UNO's Arena Plan Downsizes Further To Meet $75 Million Budget

Some of my questions about UNO's funding plans for the proposed hockey arena for Maverick hockey and other sports were answered by Henry Cordes in Sunday's World-Herald.  But a previous concern is becoming magnified.

Where will that extra $4.7 million in annual revenue come from? It's not complete, but we do have a blueprint:

$1.4 million from the sale of "premium" seating (suites and club seating).  Also "priority seating" for the best seats in the arena.  That's revenue that mostly goes to MECA to pay for the CenturyLink Center with UNO's current arrangement.  I believe UNO has implemented some "priority seating" plans for the best lower level seats at the CenturyLink Center; that'll probably expand moving forward.

$1.2 million from concession revenue - including beer.  That's probably a reasonable number.

$400,000 assuming that ticket sales will increase moving forward.  UNO hopes to increase season ticket sales to 6,000 with the smaller arena.

That's $3 million.  The rest would come from naming rights, advertising, and rental of the facility for other events.  Considering that the Trailer Park gets over $300,000 for naming rights, you see that this probably is a viable figure.

Heritage Services, the consortium of Omaha's power brokers, has signed off on UNO's plans, which gives it the stamp of approval.  At this point, it's certain to happen.

While UNO's numbers seem to be coming into focus, one of my previous concerns has actually magnified.  I've long felt that 7,500 seats for UNO hockey was too small.

So guess what?  As the plans have evolved, the size of the facility has actually gone DOWN.  They've even used a euphemism that I've long disagreed with.  In real estate, agents frequently describe tiny, cramped accommodations as "cozy".  In stadiums, the term is "right sized".

Or in plain English:  It's small...too small.  Now UNO is talking about a 7,000 to 7,500 seat arena, reducing the size in an effort to keep the arena cost within the originally discussed budget of $75 million.

Cordes' article says that attendance for UNO hockey had dropped to 5,000 a game.  That's completely misleading; for the last several years, UNO hockey has averaged between 7,000 and 8,000 fans per game.  Reportedly, UNO has sold only 4,000 season tickets in recent years.  That's probably accurate.  Some of the difference is with free tickets.  Some of those freebies go to marketing partners, some of those freebies go to students.  Those probably aren't going away.  At least not for students.  If anything, UNO needs to make sure that students have a sizable presence at Maverick hockey games - and not have to pay for them. 

That "6,000 tickets sold" per game figure is pretty close to a sellout, assuming students still get in free to a 7,000 seat UNO arena.  And it's something that probably can be expected if the understanding is that UNO hockey tickets aren't going to be available at the door.  As long as the ticket price hasn't gotten unreasonable for fans.

But with UNO hockey crowds capped at somewhere under 7,500, it's extremely disheartening to realize that UNO hockey will not grow any more than it is currently.  UNO hockey once sold out the 8,314 Civic Auditorium.  Ten years later, UNO is now contemplating 1,000 FEWER seats than before.

I'm not going to criticize the plans for UNO to build a long-overdue and very much needed practice facility. But the arena concept is becoming what UNO can afford to do on their own, even if it's not what UNO really needs.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Questions Still Exist on UNO Arena Proposal

Nebraska's Board of Regents approved UNO's financing plan for a $75 million arena south of Ak-Sar-Ben, seeming to make the plan an almost complete certainty.  Which is a shame because the numbers reported in today's Omaha World-Herald do not make sense.

The World-Herald reports that UNO anticipates that revenues will increase by $4.7 million a year, mostly from hockey.  That would more than cover the bonds that will pay for the arena ($2.1 million) and the operating costs of the building ($2.3 million).

$4.4 million is less than $4.7 million, right?  So what's the problem?

I'm not sure where that $4.7 million is going to come from in "increased hockey revenues".  The $2.1 million in bonds makes sense; amortize $35 million over 25 years at 3.25% interest, and you get about $2.1 million a year.  So that number seems to gel.  Operating costs of the arena are a clear unknown to me, but let's accept that number for now.

Where does the $4.7 million in increased revenue come from?  With ownership of their arena, UNO can count on all of the profits from concessions, including beer.  All of the advertising revenue, including naming rights, one would expect.  (Unless those were already promised in the $35 million being donated for the project.)  Parking revenue as well.

But $4.7 million equates to about $225,000 in ADDITIONAL revenue per hockey game, based on a 21 game season.  In a 7500 seat arena with students (who should continue to receive free tickets), that equates to an extra $30 per fan in attendance for every hockey game.

That's an awful lot of beer and hot dogs.  Heck, at $30 a ticket, that would make UNO hockey the most expensive season ticket around - even pricier than Nebraska football.  (Even if it's 20+ games versus seven or eight games a season.)

So it's not going to all come from ticket holders.  But it's not going to come from beer sales either.  And that's where the questions come in.  $4.7 a year in additional revenue is a big number, and one that really needs to be explained.  Yes, they can sell suites (some of which probably will go to the donors).  Yes, they can sell premium club seating.  But beer and hot dogs aren't going to make that up.

Now, moving to the new arena will eliminate UNO's costs of renting the CenturyLink Center.  That improves the bottom line, but then they have to take over all of the maintenance.  I wonder if the $2.3 million is instead the additional cost of arena operations over what UNO is paying to rent the CenturyLink Center for hockey games.  But since I've never operated an arena, I have no idea how much it costs to run.

I do believe the $4.7 million in additional revenue is overly optimistic, unless the plan is to charge UNO fans significantly more in the future.

And if that's really how this arena is going to be funded, then this plan was a major mistake for the future of UNO athletics.  Since I know there are many smart people overlooking this plan, I doubt that this is the case.  But I'm still curious because the numbers, at face value from what we know, don't make sense.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Outdoor Hockey Games Are Cool: Pula, Croatia

Some UNO hockey fans still have a bad taste in their mouth from last month's outdoor game at TD Ameritrade Park.  Some of that is because UNO got beaten...and beaten badly by North Dakota.  Some of that is because the North Dakota fans overran Omaha.

But that doesn't change the fact that outdoor games are simply cool. UNO laying an egg last month didn't change that reality.  Want more proof?  My fellow CornNation author David McGee sends us this highlight video of a KHL game played at a 2,000 year old Roman amphitheater in Pula, Croatia.
Yeah, that was cool.  Hopefully, UNO gives the outdoor game another try in a few years.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Nighthawks Players Suing UFL, But Is That The End of Minor League Football in Omaha?

78 former UFL players, including former Huskers Phillip Dillard, Zac Lee, Mike Caputo, Cody Glenn, Jay Moore, and Steve Octavien, have filed suit against the UFL and the Omaha Nighthawks for wages owed from the aborted 2012 season.  When the UFL shut down last October, the plan was to resume play this spring. This lawsuit makes it pretty clear the Nighthawks won't be playing in the UFL again.  Even if this lawsuit is settled, what player would waste their time in the UFL after this?  The UFL essentially stopped breathing last October, so while it doesn't have an official "death certificate", there's no point in holding out hope that the UFL will come back.

Some will say that this is proof minor league football won't work.  I'm not sure I buy that.  The crowds the Nighthawks drew in 2010 to Rosenblatt Stadium were proof that there is a market for minor league football in Omaha.  And San Diego businessman Jaime Cuadra thinks minor league football is viable nationally.  He's resurrecting the USFL, with plans to play as a spring football league.  While the USFL talks about Omaha as a market, it's a market that lacks facilities for football in the spring.  TD Ameritrade Park was designed for baseball, and the NCAA would never allow football teams to tear up the field prior to the College World Series.  UNO's Caniglia Field is being converted to a soccer pitch, so unless the USFL wants to play at a high school field, there's no place to play in Omaha.

Dead concept for Omaha right?  That's what I had concluded.

But...not so fast.  Seems the organizers of the USFL have an idea.  The Boston Globe reports that the USFL is planning to build stadiums in some markets as part of a larger commercial development:
Now, with a large real estate developer aboard, the league is about to finalize paperwork with its first five franchises, some to be based in new stadia the league will build at a cost as high as $500 million each. Each stadium will have a seating capacity of about 25,000, and in most cases will be part of a larger real estate plan that includes commercial space.
Well, that changes things quite a bit.  If the USFL is going to build stadiums, suddenly Omaha is more viable than before.  Does this make the entire USFL concept viable?  I'm still skeptical, but if private owners are willing to make this gamble with their own money in other areas of the country, why not Omaha?

The first five franchises appear to be headed towards Southern California, Austin/San Antonio, Louisiana, Alabama, and Ohio.  Omaha is mentioned as another market the USFL is looking at along with Birmingham and Memphis.  The USFL is now talking about playing next spring, so if a stadium is going to be built, construction would have to start really soon.  That's unlikely, but maybe 2015.  The USFL has hired Jim Bailey, a former NFL executive, to run the new league.  That's football executive experience, which suggests that this might actually happen.

If private investors want to build a football stadium in the Omaha area with their own money, I view that as a good thing for Omaha.  Frankly, it would be an exciting idea if it were to happen.  I also have to say that if I had $100 million lying around, I probably wouldn't spend it on a minor league football team and a stadium. But if someone else wanted to do that, and do it without expectations of sizable support from local government, other than permitting, I'm all in favor of it.

Like I said, I'm not sure I believe in the business case nationally, but if someone is going to try to do it, Omaha has proven themselves to be the place to make it happen.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Searching For Answers For Maverick Hockey Collapse

Two months ago, UNO sat on top of the WCHA standings after sweeping Colorado College and setting the expectations of more - much more - in the second half of the season.
"...this is UNO's best start to a hockey season ever.  And considering that Dean Blais teams traditionally have been stronger down the stretch, that's a really positive sign."
 Well, that didn't happen. Not even close.  In fact, just the opposite.  It's almost like it was bizarro opposite world for UNO hockey.  The Mavs only won five of the remaining 13 games, and ironically two of those wins were actually against Bemidji State, UNO's version of Kryptonite.  Even worse, UNO has lost their last five games and fell all the way to seventh place in the WCHA. UNO now has to go on the road to play Minnesota State in Mankato for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

The first signs of trouble emerged when North Dakota swept the Mavs in early February, but my warning alarms went off last weekend against Wisconsin. Crisp passing always seemed to be a trademark of UNO's teams under Dean Blais, but against the Badgers, they were anything but.  Off target, and too frequently picked off.

A good Twitter exchange between myself and UNO's Red Army Supreme Commander Rick Jeffries ensued during the early stages of Saturday night's 6-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth:
He points out that UNO has gone 3-11 in March under Blais.  That's significant.  Another statistic that's eye-popping is that UNO hasn't been to Joe Louis Arena since 2005...and has never been to the Exel Energy Center since moving to the WCHA.  And right now, nobody in Omaha sees much hope of UNO getting there this season.

The March losses are one thing, but the February swoons are a recent development, but a trend emerged.  In Blais' first season (with Mike Kemp's players, mind you), UNO finished the season 10-5...the last two losses were in the CCHA quarterfinals to Ferris State.  In 2010-11, UNO finished the season 8-8, but the last three losses were to arch-nemesis Bemidji State then that disputed Michigan NCAA tournament game.  Last season, UNO ended the season on a 5-10-2 run. And this season, UNO is 2-8 in their last ten games.
I agree, this looks like a conditioning problem. That's a layman - and outsider's perspective - to the problem. I could be wrong, but I remember when Dean Blais first came to town, he told his players to get ready to run.  And run.  And run.  That first team was stronger down the stretch.  His second wasn't bad down the stretch.  But it's getting progressively worse and worse down the stretch.
I could very well be wrong here.  Conditioning wasn't a problem with Blais' North Dakota teams, but it's looking like it is in Omaha. Blais is a proven winner, so you have to believe that his system works.

That being said, it isn't working in Omaha.  Which raises the question as to why.  That's the question that Dean Blais needs to answer.  That's the question that Trev Alberts needs to be asking.  That's the question that Mike Kemp needs to be asking.  It's not a question as to whether Dean Blais is the right coach for UNO; he undoubtedly is.

But something needs to change with UNO hockey. And frankly, this is more urgent than any arena plans, unless the root cause can somehow be traced back to the lack of campus practice facilities.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Creighton Jumping Up to the Big East?

By all accounts, we could be hearing any day (maybe any hour now) that Creighton will be leaving the Missouri Valley Conference to join the "Catholic Seven" in a reformulated, football-free Big East Conference. Regular readers of this blog know that I have no love for Creighton, so that's probably going to influence my opinion on the matter.

Is it a good move for Creighton?  I can't answer that, but I think Creighton needs to ask this question for all of their other sports first, and then go back to basketball. How does this affect the Bluejays' rising soccer program?  How about their solid baseball program?  How about their womens' teams?  The question isn't how would they fare in the games, but rather how would they schedule games?  Do they have to fly everywhere?  Will Creighton's teams spend all of their time on long bus trips?

I don't know those answers, but Bruce Rasmussen should.  And he can then make an economic decision that the revenue that Big East basketball brings to Creighton will more than fund any increased travel expenses their other teams will make.  Or not.  And that should guide his decision.

Can Creighton compete in the Big East?  Maybe.  I'm sure some Creighton fan will jump up and point out that Creighton beat Wisconsin and that their RPI is better than many other Big East teams.  Duly noted.  But let's also point out that Creighton has never played the quantity of top flight opponents that they would face night-in and night-out in the Big East.  Anything can happen in a one game scenario.  Nebraska took a top-ranked Michigan team to the wire this season.  Beat a top-20 RPI Minnesota team last night.  (Or they were, anyway...)  Last season, they beat Indiana.  Upsets happen.  Creighton got caught by several stinker performances against lesser Mo-Valley teams last month.

One thing I learned from Nebraska's move to the Big Ten is that your perceptions of a conference change once you get inside.  And it's tough initially to change leagues because your opponents just have one new have an entirely new schedule of unfamiliar teams to learn and understand.

One thing is clear:  moving to the Big East would be an incredible increase in prestige for Creighton basketball.  They wouldn't be a mid-major team anymore.  They would be in the big time, playing big-time schools week after week.  That's good for Creighton. Creighton vs. Georgetown? Creighton vs. Villanova?  Creighton vs. St. Johns?  That's not Bradley or Evansville anymore.

It also raises another interesting question.  What does the Missouri Valley do in respond?  Do they accept being a nine game conference?  Or do they search out another member.

Maybe one in a market that's a close drive to many other Valley schools.  One in a market that has fallen in love with the Valley name.

Would they look to add UNO?  And what would Valley membership mean for Maverick sports?  It's an interesting idea.  Could UNO compete in the Valley now?  No, and they aren't even NCAA tournament eligible for a couple more years.  But eventually, you never know.  And it would be a heck of a boost for UNO's basketball programs to play in a conference like the Valley.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Another Wisconsin Beat-Down

After the results of the last week, the only thing left for Wisconsin to do is annex the state of Nebraska. The Badgers blew out Nebraska 77-46 on Tuesday in basketball, then swept UNO in hockey this weekend. Nobody should have been surprised by the basketball loss, though Huskers fans should have been dismayed by the margin of defeat.

The hockey losses were a most disappointing surprise. Certainly UNO went into it looking for the sweep themselves, but never led all weekend.  (Well, they did briefly take a 2-1 lead on Wisconsin until the call was reversed after a ridiculously long goal review.)  UNO entered the weekend in third place, just one point behind Minnesota. Now they sit precariously in sixth place, one point ahead of Denver.  The top six teams host first round playoff series games in two weeks, and Denver finishes the season with last place Alaska-Anchorage.

UNO has to travel to Minnesota Duluth.  With the presumption that Denver is going to win both games at home, UNO probably needs to get a road sweep to retain home ice.  Or maybe a split of the series, and hope that North Dakota sweeps Minnesota State-Mankato.  There are a few other wacky scenarios that help, but for the most part, UNO is in the same situation they were in last week:  two wins gets you home ice.  The problem is that they failed both times this weekend.

Here's what's more ominous:  UNO has now lost five straight home games (not including the exhibition game loss last weekend).  So frankly, I'm not sure home ice is any sort of advantage for this team.  It's hard to understand, but perhaps without having the distractions of having class and friends around, this team might play better.  Maybe it really would be best for UNO to finish the season on the road.

So what has happened to UNO hockey over the last month or so? Deep down, I think it's the same problem they had last season: they are worn down. All weekend long, we saw sloppy imprecise passes that, when lucky, just failed to reach their target, and sometimes resulted in a turnover.  Add in some questionable goaltending, especially by senior John Faulkner, and you've got a leaky ship.  For much of this season, UNO's defense has been pretty solid, but it's was broken down badly by the Badgers this weekend.  North Dakota had their way with the Mavs three weeks ago as well.

The move to pull the redshirt off of Ryan Massa now looks like a desperation move in hindsight. He's probably UNO's best goaltender at this point of the season, but he's anything but in the form he showed last season.  I'm still not sure why Faulkner didn't get pulled last night in the third period of last night's 6-2 loss.  A goalie change wouldn't have changed the outcome, but it would have given a rusty Massa another opportunity to get some game action.

The officiating crew didn't help things much. The waived-off goal on Friday night didn't take nearly as long as the infamous Michigan "goal" in the 2011 NCAA tournament, but it was the same sour result for UNO.  Did James Polk interfere with Wisconsin's Joel Rumpel? Yes, but only after he got hauled down by the Badger defenseman.  A phantom "embellishment" penalty on Johnnie Searfoss after he was tripped up by Joseph LaBate? It was almost like officials Brian Thul and Craig Welker were auditioning for jobs in the Big Ten next season.

But that's not why UNO lost on Saturday night, and not really why UNO got swept.  UNO isn't playing very good hockey at this point, and that's a very dangerous thing to be doing in March. Up until last season, Dean Blais teams hit their stride in the second half of the season, but injuries and defections seem to have overwhelmed the Mavs the last two seasons.  This season isn't over; UNO still has a chance to regroup and make a run on things.  But they have to turn it around and fast.  Wisconsin has only lost three games since Thanksgiving, so it could be that the Badgers are just playing that well.  But the margin for error is gone now.  UNO must win on the road now to keep the season alive. And any dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament depend solely on winning three games in St. Paul and earning the WCHA's autobid.  And to do that, UNO first has to find a way to get to St. Paul.

And that road just got a whole lot tougher with a lost weekend against Wisconsin. And after the B1G football championship game and all of the other games against the Badgers, I've seen too much heartbreak from watching my teams battle Wisconsin in recent months.