Wednesday, September 14, 2016

UNO Hockey on TV 2016-17

While most people who read this blog are going to be AT the UNO Hockey games (at least the home ones!), I like to do a roundup post each season that has the TV schedule so you can either catch games that you can't make it to, or re-watch awesome match-ups.

I'll be updating this post as the season goes on as additional games on TV are announced. As of this update (Sept. 29, 2016), the Mavs will be featured in 10 televised games (not including NCHC.tv).

NCHC.tv
We LOVE our NCHC.tv subscription. We have the full conference subscription, so it allows us to watch most of the UNO Hockey away games as well as matchups between other conference foes.

According to the NCHC news release, this year's conference annual pass will have access to more than 130 games throughout the season, including almost all conference and home non-conference games. It will also include all exhibition games and the NCHC Tournament quarterfinal games.

The cost for a conference annual pass for this season is $104.95 -- making the cost less than $1 a game. (There was an earlybird special in August that was even less -- watch for that next year.) Or you can get a conference monthly pass for $24.95/month.

You can also get a school-specific annual pass (for example, JUST UNO Hockey games) for $89.95, or a school-specific monthly pass for $18.95 per month.

If you have questions about NCHC.tv, contact NeuLion at nchctv@neulion.com.

Please note: If you purchase a school-specific annual pass or monthly pass, these subscriptions automatically renew each year unless cancelled.

All games shown on NCHC.tv during the upcoming season will be in high definition (HD).

New this year: Viewers with subscriptions will be able to watch NCHC.tv on both Apple TV and Roku devices. (Last year, we mirrored our NCHC.tv feed to our TV using our iPad and Apple TV, but this year, you can watch it natively on the tv). Or, you can stream games from NCHC.tv on any desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device with an Internet connection.

Catch a preview of NCHC.tv here:



You can watch The NCHC State of the Conference address on Thursday, Sept. 22 here:
http://www.nchc.tv/nchc/schedule

CBS Sports Network
One thing I don't like about games shown on CBS Sports Network is that these games are then not available on NCHC.tv.

We asked the NCHC about this, and this was the answer:



The short answer:
"The CBSSN contract was created and signed before NCHC.tv existed and CBSSN wanted the digital rights, so they have them."

Here's the UNO Hockey games that will be on CBS Sports Network:
  • Friday, Jan. 27 – UNO at Denver, 8:30 p.m. Central
  • Friday, March 3 – Denver at UNO, 7:30 p.m. Central

NET Nebraska/Fox College Sports

Four of UNO's home games will be televised on NET Nebraska, with funding coming from the UNO Office of Academic and Student Affairs.

The games will include:

  • Friday, Nov. 18 – Minnesota-Duluth at UNO, 7 p.m. (Fox College Sports)
  • Friday, Jan. 6 – North Dakota at UNO, 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, Jan. 21 – Miami at UNO, 7:30 p.m. (Fox College Sports)
  • Friday, Feb. 10 – Western Michigan at UNO, 7 p.m.

American Sports Network
This channel, available over the air in Omaha, will feature four UNO games:

  • Friday, Oct. 21 – Vermont at UNO, 7:07 p.m.
  • Friday, Dec. 2 – UNO at Wisconsin, 7:05 p.m.
  • Saturday, Jan. 7 – North Dakota at UNO, 7:07 p.m.
  • Friday, Jan. 13 – UNO at Colorado College, 8:37 p.m.


Here's the link to the NCHC full TV conference schedule too:
http://www.nchchockey.com/tvschedule



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Breaking Down UNO's New Assistants

By Jon Brooks


Photo by Greg McVey

In the wake of the firings of UNO assistant coaches Troy Jutting and Alex Todd on March 31, the Mavericks have wrangled up a couple of assistants to try to reverse the fortunes of a program that started off the 2015-16 season 14-3-1, then finished with a 4-14 record.

UNO has hired Mike Gabinet and Leigh Mendelson as assistants for the 2016-17 season. 

Many were surprised when Blais decided to clean house after the season, but the move shouldn't surprise anyone. Not only are expectations higher after the team's first-ever Frozen Four appearance in 2015, there are mounting bills coming due on the university's shiny new Baxter Arena

Since most of the local media coverage of the hirings has been "press release" material, I thought I'd take a closer look at both coaches, and analyze the challenges and opportunities facing the entire staff moving forward. 

Gabinet Returns After Coaching a Canadian College Team to a 36-0 Record 




Mike Gabinet is not the first former UNO Hockey player to join the coaching staff as a full-time assistant (that honor goes to Nick Fohr). 

Gabinet is, however, the first former UNO player to join the staff with head coaching experience -- one season with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Ooks of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC). 

Prior to the 2015-16 campaign, he was an assistant for three seasons with the Ooks (joining them after a nine-year professional career playing in North America, Sweden and Finland). 

We profiled Gabinet in a March blog post focusing on hypothetical assistant coach candidates.  

The Ooks finished their season with a perfect 36-0 record in the ACAC. Regardless of the circumstances or level of play, an unblemished record is worth lauding. 

Canadian college hockey is different than NCAA hockey (or NCAA athletics in general). Athletes who have played professionally are allowed to come back to school and play in the league NAIT competes in. 

In the case of the Ooks, their leading scorer the past two seasons was a forward named John Dunbar (not to be confused with the character Kevin Costner played in the movie Dances With Wolves).  

Prior to joining the Ooks, Dunbar played three seasons professionally in the ECHL -- two with the Fort Wayne Komets and one with the Pensacola Ice Flyers. He also had a two-season stint with Quinnipiac University (2010-12). 

The Edmonton Sun had an article praising Gabinet and other ACAC coaches in Cananda, talking about how the conference is a good proving ground for NHL coaches and that "the quality of ACAC competition remains almost unknown to the general public."  

Another tidbit mentioned in the Edmonton Sun article is the fact that there is no "national championship of colleges" in Canada. 

All schools in the ACAC compete under the same rules, but it illustrates the different dynamic at play north of the border. As such, we will have to see how Gabinet's experience translates to NCAA D-I hockey. 

As a follower and supporter of the UNO program since its inception, I can say that Gabinet was top-notch defenseman with size and reach during his years as a Maverick. Not only that, his affable, polite and laid back manner with the fans during those years should go a long way with players and prospects in his new gig. 

Gabinet, along with former NAIT Head Coach Serge Lajoie, put together a successful pool of talent for the Ooks. 

Lajoie and Gabinet wanted to make a statement against UNO in the fall of 2014. According to the Edmonton Sun, they "hoped to make the North American hockey world come to realize that the hockey in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference is played at an extremely high level."

It worked. NAIT went on to defeat UNO 4-0 in their exhibition game on Oct. 6, 2014. 

It's worth noting that UNO gave Gabinet a three-year contract at $120,000 per year. Multi-year contracts of this length are something of a rarity for assistant coaches at UNO. 

Considering his past relationship with Associate Athletic Director Mike Kemp, it seems likely that UNO views Gabinet as a possible successor to Dean Blais (when the storied head coach decides to hang up his whistle someday). 

Whether that happens remains to be seen, but that appears to be the direction Sapp Fieldhouse is heading at the moment. 

Mendelson Brings a Long List of Coaching Experiences to the Bench



Some of our faithful readers will notice that I had left Leigh Mendelson off the profile of possible candidates I wrote about in a March blog post

That wasn't meant to be a slight, but in the past, "volunteer assistants" with UNO have been on different career trajectories, many with families, and are aiding the team as an outlet to stay involved with the game they know and love. That's not the case with Mendelson.

Mendelson is owner and instructor with Goalietown Omaha -- working with youth goaltenders in the Omaha area. 

(He also earned an undergraduate degree from UNO in 2015). 

Mendelson has served as Volunteer Goaltending Coach for UNO the past two seasons. The results between the pipes have been impressive during that time -- in particular, Ryan Massa's performance during the 2014-15 season. 

The list of coaching stops for Mendelson has been extensive the past 20 years, featuring brief stints with a variety of junior and professional teams in North America and Europe. He mentions on his Goalietown Omaha Facebook page that he has trained more than 40 NCAA Division I and professional goaltenders during his career. 

He has served in both assistant and head coaching capacities. Local hockey fans might remember the 2000-01 Omaha Lancers (USHL) team that won the Clark Cup -- Mendelson was an assistant under Mike Hastings.

He was one of Dave Hakstol's assistants with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) in the 2005-06 season.

During a coaching stint in Finland, Mendelson studied at the Vierumaki Sports Institute with the likes of Erkka Westerlund, who led the Finnish national men's ice hockey team to a silver medal in the 2006 Olympics. 

Mendelson has had a relatively "nomadic" coaching career, moving from team to team and not staying anywhere for long.

This chart from hockeydb.com shows the varied coaching experience Mendelson has had with 15 different teams over 20 years:



I've been told that the UNO Hockey players have a great deal of respect for Mendelson. That is an important attribute to have as an assistant -- especially during a period of transition. 

Talent acquistion and scouting are two areas junior teams in the USHL and NAHL deal with on an annual basis. Mendelson's experiences suggest he has knowledge in that area. 

Challenges and Opportunities: Where Does UNO Go From Here...?
The reality is that neither new assistant has experience recruiting players for a NCAA Division I hockey program. That alone makes the hires somewhat surprising for a program that is a season removed from a Frozen Four appearance. 

To be sure, there will be a learning curve for both coaches. If anything, the NCAA game has changed during the past 10 to 15 years.

The recent addition of "full cost of attendance scholarships" (which UNO has said it isn't ready to offer) creates a new dynamic when recruiting student-athletes, and also creates challenges for schools like UNO. 

The key will be for the coaching staff to continue making inroads with the youth and prep ranks -- as it is becoming more common for teams to garner verbal commitments from 15-year-old players. That trend creates uncertainty on the "risk/reward" spectrum, and coaching staffs have to have a discerning eye for talent. 

UNO has had some impressive players during Dean Blais's tenure, and the program needs to continue landing recruits like Ryan Walters, Jake Guentzel, Josh Archibald and Andrej Sustr if it is going to progress into a perennial NCAA tournament participant.

The coaching staff also needs to find a way to harness the power of "lunch pail" players (along the lines of #oldbulls Jeff Hoggan and Mike Lefley, among others), and form a grittier squad better able to compete with the rigors of NCHC play. 

You wonder if the team will shift from the top prep players in Minnesota and the USHL ranks and look for more "golden nuggets" in the Canadian junior ranks (as they did in the program's early years with players like Jeff Hoggan, David Brisson and Greg Zanon). 

The second half of UNO's 2015-16 season featured lackluster performances. In particular, the power play looked anemic. But all aspects of play were suspect. 

Over the years, Blais has tended toward a more freewheeling style of play, with an aggressive forecheck. When you have skilled players with speed, you can have success using that philosophy. Be that as it may, there were moments last season when the team looked slower and less athletic than their NCHC counterparts -- and it cost them in conference play. 

With one assistant having worked extensively with defensemen and defensive systems, and another having spent his career working with goaltenders, it could mean the team will look to build from the "net out" in a more conservative, tough manner with rigid systems and formations.

Then again, it might not mean that at all.

One thing is for sure, the microscope will be on the team the next two seasons, and these two new hires will have a great deal of influence on the direction of the program.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Conference Alignment: Arizona State's Future ... and How It Echoes UNO's Past

By Jon Brooks


The winds of realignment have been blowing the past few years in college hockey, tearing apart long-standing rivalries and introducing uncertainty into conference structure and future expansion.

Arizona State is the most recent entrant into the D-I hockey ranks, and there has been considerable discussion about where the program will ultimately land.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and Big Ten Hockey Conference have been mentioned as possible homes for the Arizona State program.

In recent months, most of the signs appeared to point the Sun Devils toward the Big Ten.

Then a story appeared yesterday on the WCCO website which knocked that theory off course:
http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/04/25/arizona-st-hockey-big-ten-wcha-nchc/
"Two sources told WCCO that the Big Ten is no longer in the running to add the Sun Devils, and the choice is now between the Western Colleginate Hockey Association or the National Collegiate Hockey Conference."
Laying Out Preferences
Twitter has been chirping with various scenarios and preferences on the topic.

There are a number of NCHC bloggers and fans who would prefer the conference stay at its current eight member institutions -- preserving the NCHC's nascent tradition of being a strong hockey conference on a perennial basis.

Some believe Arizona State would fit better in the WCHA.

It has even been suggested that Arizona State should join Hockey East. (It reminds me of the time in 1998 when Maine Hockey Coach Shawn Walsh told the crowd at a UNO Blue Line Club Luncheon that he wanted to see UNO join Hockey East).

Last season has ended, and a myriad of banter ensues until the puck drops in the fall. I even wrote a piece ruminating on the hypothetical notion of UNO and North Dakota playing hockey in the Big Ten.

The Lack of Love
It is interesting to note the healthy cynicism on social media regarding Sun Devil Hockey. Part of it stems from the fact that collegiate hockey is largely represented by "smaller" schools.

Arizona State boasts that it is one of the largest public universities in the nation. There have been suggestions in intervening months that ASU would prefer to be in a conference with other "similar-size" institutions. That fueled suggestions that the Big Ten might accept the hockey program as an affiliate member (as they recently did with Notre Dame).

In some respects, Arizona State's newly minted D-I hockey program is like that new kid on the block who tries to push his way into a long-standing pickup game. The core fans who make up the small, tight-knit group of college hockey afficionados treat ASU with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Mixed Emotions -- Remembering How It Was For UNO in the Early Years
It is easy to be cynical about an upstart program wanting to play with the "big boys."

Even so, I remember the difficulties UNO had when it announced the formation of men's hockey in 1996. The university had assumed it would be able to join the WCHA.

After getting a tepid response from WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod (along with wary skepticism from some of the WCHA member schools at the time), UNO began to look elsewhere.

There were those who thought UNO should join with the other independent schools that would eventually form College Hockey America (CHA).

Based on what we heard at UNO Blue Line Club membership meetings we attended back during the first season, UNO had little interest in that conference.

From a stability point of view, the university wanted to be in a conference with more established programs.

UNO ultimately pursued the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and was accepted to start play in the 1999-2000 season (finishing one game away from getting the conference autobid to the NCAA tournament).

At the time, we were told that Michigan State's Ron Mason was an advocate for adding UNO, and instrumental in greasing the wheels for our application. He proved to be a strong voice for expansion in college hockey, and had been so since his days at Bowling Green and Lake Superior State.

The reality at the time was that the CCHA had hit some potholes with Kent State and the University of Illinois-Chicago -- member schools that fizzled out (Kent State after only a single season). It wouldn't have been at all surprising for the conference to reject UNO as a result.

In 1998, Lake Superior State Athletic Director Bill Crawford told the Omaha World-Herald, "We've been the Ellis Island of college hockey. We bring everybody in."

Miami (OH) Coach Mark Mazzoleni told the paper, "It would be easy for guys like [Ron Mason] to just look out for their own schools. Ron Mason has always told us that we have to open to the betterment of college hockey as a whole."

Unlike some of my compatriots, I have a difficult time summarily dismissing the notion of adding Arizona State to the NCHC.

I believe there are some tangible positives for the NCHC-member schools with the addition of Arizona State. Not only would it be a terrific trip for players, coaches, and fans, it has the ancillary benefit of increasing exposure in the southwest United States (and we are seeing more hockey players from places like Arizona and California on college hockey rosters).

Arizona State had two of its hockey games broadcast on the Pac-12 Network last season (a game against Yale and a game against the U.S. Under-18 Select Team). There is an opportunity for NCHC schools to be featured in matchups against the Sun Devils on the network, and that would increase the national TV footprint.

Where Do We Go From Here?
College hockey fans go should go into this with eyes wide open. It is possible that other Pac-12 programs will follow suit and eventually join Arizona State in the D-I ranks -- leaving the NCHC with a hole if the "Pac-12 Hockey Conference" ever becomes a reality.

Some don't believe it is worth the risk. They feel it is better to maintain stability and avoid risking the solid foundation the NCHC has tried to achieve.

I would merely remind those fans that the NCHC is a diverse conference featuring schools with varying academic backgrounds, funding, facilities, and goals.

Few would argue that Western Michigan is a better hockey school than Northern Michigan, but the Broncos found their way into the NCHC.

It is possible that we have to take the "long view" of the sport. I don't know if it will happen in my lifetime, but it might be nice to see the day when more than 16 teams make the NCAA tournament.

The only way that happens is if college hockey expands.

Final Thoughts
The future is in flux. The addition of programs like Penn State and Arizona State to the D-I hockey ranks creates uncertainty and an environment of shifting alliances.

One thing is certain -- we have to be open to the growth of the sport (even if it is in a judicious and controlled manner).

As athletic department budgets become squeezed by changes such as "full cost of attendance scholarships," we have to consider that the sport could benefit from having well-funded universities sponsoring programs.

There's an old aphorism that states "a rising tide lifts all boats."

The reality is that we need additional programs in collegiate hockey. We need to do things to support and foster the growth.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the NCHC is the best fit for Arizona State, but it is a possibility worth considering.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

UNO Not Ready for "Full Cost of Attendance Scholarships" - What They Are, and Why Is This Important?

By Jon Brooks

An interesting "bullet point" popped out of Henry Cordes's Omaha World-Herald article on UNO Hockey this week that is important for fans to take note of:
"UNO still isn't ready to implement full cost of attendance scholarships. [Alberts] said he's not sure how many other major hockey schools are doing so, but he said he doesn't feel UNO is at a competitive disadvantage at this point. UNO will continue to evaluate the situation."

Some readers might not be familiar with "full cost of attendance scholarships." This is a new movement in the world of NCAA athletics.

Such scholarships allow schools to pick up the costs for things like "travel expenses," "personal expenses," and "meals and snacks." The NCAA has a Q&A on the topic, and the expenditures will vary based on the school, but will generally range from up to $1,000 to around $6,000 annually, according to a CBS Sports survey about the cost of attendance impact.

In essence, it covers more than tuition, room and board, and required books. It changes the definition of a "full scholarship."

The nation's five wealthiest NCAA-member conferences voted to approve the move. As of Aug. 1, 2015, the new expenditures by schools are now allowed (but not required).

According to USA Today, the resulting changes mean students are receiving $160 million in additional benefits each year as part of this program. The USA Today article includes a video interview with reporter Steve Berkowitz, and he discusses the changes and research he did for the story.

North Dakota Already Offering "Full Cost of Attendance Scholarships" for Hockey
In a blog post last week, I talked about the announcement that North Dakota had decided to dissolve its men's baseball and golf programs.

Eliminating those two sports will save the UND athletic department $750,000 annually, according to Brad Schlossman's article in the Grand Forks Herald.

What was more interesting was to learn that North Dakota already offers "full cost of attendance scholarships" for its men's and women's hockey programs. The university will introduce those scholarships for ALL sports starting next season (at an estimated cost of $731,000).

It's worth noting that the money saved from the eliminated programs is essentially the same amount of money the "full cost of attendance scholarships" will require for funding.

(Note: Miami (OH) will also be an NCHC school offering "full cost of attendance scholarships" for hockey.)

Conflicting Messages
While UNO said this week that it "isn't ready" to implement "full cost of attendance" scholarships, College Hockey News reported in an interview with Dean Blais on Oct. 21, 2015, that UNO would be offering the scholarships:
"'It's all part of the college hockey 'arms race,' with 'full cost of attendance' scholarships being added to it this year, something UNO will be doing.
 'It's one thing after the next,' Blais said. 'That's just the way it is. You don't have to like it, but that's the way it is.'"

It seems, at least for now, that UNO is in a "holding pattern" regarding the additional expenditures for their athletic programs -- including hockey.

What Are the Consequences?
While no one knows the long-term effects of this move by NCAA institutions, it could further the gap between the "haves" and "have nots." It could allow "Power 5" conferences to further increase their competitive advantage over smaller, less financially stable schools and conferences.

As it regards college hockey, there is little doubt that a conference like the Big Ten (along with schools like Notre Dame and Boston College) will have an increased advantage (and will have the budgets to sustain such expenditures for hockey).

As Adam Wodon of College Hockey News points out, we "haven't even gotten into the potential fishiness when it comes to determining what the full cost of attendance is."

Where Will UNO Go From Here?
While the continual "arms race" can create financial burdens and instability, UNO needs to carefully consider its path forward.

One of the selling points during the construction of UNO's Baxter Arena was that the program would finally have a full-time practice facility.

That was a "sticking point" UNO coaches and administrators suggested had been used against them during recruiting battles with other schools.

The difference between an average season and a Frozen Four appearance can oftentimes come down to a couple of players on a roster.

The question is whether "full cost of attendance scholarships" will create gaps between NCHC-member schools.

It also brings into question whether conferences like the NCHC should have policies in place regarding the sorts of scholarships its member institutions offer -- in order to keep a congruent level of competiveness.

The Final Sum Game
UNO made the decision to invest $90 million on a hockey arena in order to be more competitive, and maximize its revenue potential.

The university needs to realize that lack of "full cost of attendance scholarships" could make it more difficult to land a top-tier player in recruiting battles with other institutions -- including fellow conference schools.

While some might not think it will make much difference in the near term, recruiting is a "game of inches," and you have to give your coaching staff every advantage possible.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

UND Cuts Programs Hours After A National Championship -- Sound Familiar?

By Jon Brooks

This week's athletic program cuts by the University of North Dakota took me back to 2011, when the University of Nebraska at Omaha announced it was eliminating the football and wrestling programs, adding men's soccer and golf, and moving all remaining programs to the Division I level.

On April 12, the University of North Dakota announced it was cutting its men's baseball and golf programs:




The announcement was made less than 72 hours after the North Dakota men's hockey team won the 2016 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship in Tampa, FL. Eliminating the programs is expected to save the UND athletic department $750,000 annually. The athletic budget cuts (totalling $2.4 million overall) are part of a $9.5 million university-wide reduction mandated by the state's governor, due to revenue shortfalls.  

Back in 2011, UNO made a decision to cut football and wrestling from its lineup of sponsored sports, due in part to budgetary issues and revenue deficits. The university had its sights set on moving all sports to D-I, rising up from the Division II level in order to improve fundraising efforts and the overall profile of athletics. They had an invitation from the Summit League (which didn't offer FCS football or men's wrestling in its arsenal) -- something needed in order to move up to the Division I level.

UNO added men's soccer and golf to align better with the Summit League. 

The elimination of football and wrestling was announced mere hours after the wrestling program won the NCAA D-II National Championship. 

The resulting cuts unleashed a veritable firestorm of commentary in Omaha. Not only was the topic discussed ad nauseum in local sports circles, national outlets like ESPN picked up the story

To this day, there are people in Omaha who question that move. To say that some people haven't been able "move on" is an understatement. In many instances, the most critical are those who give UNO Athletics barely a passing glance these days. 

But it illustrates the powerful public relations impact such moves can have on collegiate athletic departments around the nation. 

At issue is whether a university -- as long as it meets its Title IX and NCAA requirements -- should be forced to keep athletic programs that are a "drain" on the budget, and struggle to generate revenue and support.

College athletics exited the nostalgic realm of "kids playing a game" years ago. These programs serve as major business operations, and provide serious revenue and marketing opportunites for universities across the fruited plains. 

Furthermore, smaller schools like UNO are now faced with having to offer "full cost of attendance scholarships" for their key athletic programs -- which covers expenses beyond tuition, room and board, and textbooks. 

North Dakota started offering the stipends for men's and women's hockey programs this year, and will introduce it for all of its sports next season at an estimated cost of $731,000. 

The "cost of attendance" movement was sparked by the more powerful schools (many of which play BCS football), but its impact is having a "trickle down" effect on smaller schools playing "niche sports" in smaller conferences. 

There already exists a "have/have not" culture in university athletics nationwide. The introduction of stipends has the potential to further drain the tenuous budgets of schools that don't garner the television revenue that the larger football schools have in the power conferences. 

Schools like North Dakota and UNO will do what it takes to keep their hockey programs at a congruent level with Big Ten institutions like Minnesota and Michigan in terms of funding these "cost of attendance" scholarships. At issue, though, is what will have to be sacrificed in that effort. 

The Omahas, Colorado Colleges, Denvers, St. Clouds, and North Dakotas of the world don't have the same sort of lucrative TV contracts (based on football programming packages with cable and satellite providers) that BCS schools have in place. 

The reality is that the programs that get cut are oftentimes "successful" in terms of success in the arena of competition. 

The relative success of the North Dakota baseball program is highlighted in this column by Wayne Nelson of the Grand Forks Herald:


There is little doubt that moving all sports to the D-I level increases the profile and talent pool available to a school -- but it also increases annual expenses in terms of scholarships offered, coaching salaries, and travel costs. 

In many instances, institutions have to upgrade facilities in order to remain competitive. UNO's new Baxter Arena was essentially a necessity for its fledgling D-I basketball and volleyball programs in the Summit League, and the baseball and softball programs will eventually need have their own digs (they currently lease time at local high school parks). 

Time and again, programs that face the proverbial "hangman's noose" make proclamations such as "if only we'd known, we could have fundraised to make up the difference." 

In my mind, if interested boosters are interested "after the fact," where were they during the proceeding budgetary years with such revenue-inducing efforts?

Anyone with half a clue understands that all collegiate athletic programs face budgetary constraints on an annual basis. Why aren't more outside boosters "leading the charge" to boost revenues for "rainy-day funds" if they are so concerned?

Part of the reason Bridget and I spend an inordinate amount of time and money focused on UNO Hockey (and various happenings at the University of Nebraska at Omaha) is that we believe it is a "cause" worth our time and effort.

We have both worked doing fundraising for various non-profit organizations and trade associations in the Omaha area, and understand that it is best not to take anything for granted.  

Despite best efforts, athletic programs can find themselves on the chopping block. It can be a hard dose of reality for those who believe in a quaint, nostalgic notion of "amateur athletics." Everyone is quick to point a finger and make grand proclamations. 

The answer lies somewhere between Cinderella's 1980s power ballad "Don't Know What You Got (Til It's Gone)" and Elsa Raven's campaign to "Save the Clock Tower" in the 1985 movie "Back to the Future."

We have to balance desire and reality. 

In the scratchy vocal stylings of Cinderella lead singer Tom Keifer: "I can't tell ya baby what went wrong...I can't give you back what's been hurt...heartaches come and go and all that's left are the words."


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Mavs Hire a #2: Former Player Mike Gabinet Named Associate Head Coach

Mike Gabinet (photo courtesy of NAIT Athletics)

A little less than two weeks ago on this blog, Jon posted his "Six Possible Candidates for UNO Hockey's Coaching Vacancies." Today, it was announced that one of the six will become associate head coach for the Mavs.

Former Maverick Mike Gabinet (pronounced Gab-eh-NET) will become the associate head coach of the Mavericks.

"Mike is an outstanding coach who has had great success as both a head coach and assistant at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology," said Mavericks head coach Dean Blais in a news release. "He impressed us right away with his knowledge and passion for the game and as an alum, he's all in with what it means to be a Maverick."

Gabinet recently wrapped up his first season as the head coach of NAIT, leading the team to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Championship with a perfect 36-0 record. He was the first rookie head coach to guide his team to the conference championship since 2005-06 and the first rookie head coach in Canadian college hockey history to guide his team to an undefeated season. Gabinet was named the ACAC Coach of the Year.

Gabinet played four seasons for the Mavericks from 2000-2004 and was a solid, standout defenseman. He played in 130 career games, netting six goals and 41 assistats -- a mark that still ranks ninth all-time in scoring for UNO defensemen. Gabinet was also a team leader, serving as an alternate captain during the 2003-04 season. Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in 2001, he played professionally in the AHL, ECHL and in Europe before starting his coaching career in 2012.

An assistant coach with the Ooks, Gabinet faced his former team as a coach in the exhibition opener during the 2014-15 season. His Ooks soundly beat the Mavs 4-0.

"I am really excited to come back to Omaha and share this great community with my family," said Gabinet. "I am looking forward to working alongside Dean and his staff in helping our student-athletes, the team and the program continue to grow."

He also apparently looks really nice in a suit.

Here's hoping that Gabs is given the opportunity to build a stronger relationship between the coaching staff and hockey fans. It's been several years since the UNO coaching staff has done any significant outreach to season ticket holders and fans. While he's a great guy to talk with, that's just not Dean Blais' thing. Because Gabinet is very recognizable as a former player (and a very tall one at that -- 6' 3"), he could play a role in fan outreach because he is recognizable, in strong contrast to several of the previous assistant coaches. He'll also be able to provide insight into the UNO Hockey community, culture, and college experience for prospective student-athletes, something that we think is essential in recruiting. Ask almost any #oldbull and they will tell you that Omaha's support of the team and players distinguishes it from other programs.

Combine that with top-notch facilities now available with the opening of Baxter Arena this past season (it will be back to normal after last night's fire by the time the 2016-17 season rolls around) and the Mavs are setting themselves up for a bright future.

Related Story Links:
OMavs.com news release
Omaha World-Herald story about the Gabinet hire
Gabinet Wikipedia page


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Six Possible Candidates for UNO's Hockey Coaching Vacancies

By Jon Brooks

In the wake of the dismissal of UNO Hockey assistant coaches Troy Jutting and Alex Todd, Dean Blais will be on the hunt for two new individuals to help guide the faltering Mavericks.

Trying to read the "tea leaves" of how this might play out is likely a fool's errand. During Blais's seven-year tenure, the top assistants serving behind the bench have included: Mike Hastings, Mike Guentzel, Brian Renfrew, Steve Johnson, Troy Jutting and Alex Todd.

There really isn't a rhyme or reason to who Coach Blais might hire.

Having followed college hockey since 1997 (and having followed the small fraternity who coach in its ranks), I'll look at six possibilities in this post:



Rob Facca -- Scout, Chicago Blackhawks

Facca would bring a wealth of experience to the UNO Hockey program. The former Maverick currently serves as an amateur scout for the Chicago Blackhawks organization (a position he has held since June 2014).

Prior to his NHL stint, he was an assistant at Western Michigan University from 2010 to 2014, serving as the team's recruiting coordinator, assistant coach and associate head coach.

During his tenure at the school, WMU went 78-54-29 (a reversal from the 30-75-18 record in the three seasons leading up to his arrival). Five of Facca's recruits were named to conference all-rookie teams. He coached the team's power play (averaging 20% conversion).

WMU also made three trips to the conference semifinals, two trips to the conference finals and two trips to the NCAA tournament, and won a CCHA tournament championship during his coaching stint.

From 2007-10, Facca served as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at Northern Michigan University. He managed a comprehensive international recruiting program, and secured numerous high-profile players to the school. In this role, he coached forwards, defensemen, and goalies, with particular emphasis on forwards.

The Wildcats made their first NCAA tournament appearance in more than a decade (2009-10 season), and the team made the CCHA finals all three seasons Facca was on the staff. He coached two-time All-American defenseman Erik Gustafsson from 2007-10 and All-American and First-Team All-CCHA member Mark Olver.

Having been a player and volunteer assistant for the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Facca understands the unique place the school holds in the world of collegiate hockey. He also has connections to the local community.

Facca discusses Western Michigan's power play (March 12, 2016):



Pros: Young. Wealth of Recruiting and Coaching Experience at the Collegiate Level. Brought Postseason Success to "Non-Powerhouse" Programs. Ties to UNO.

Cons: Might be Reluctant to Leave Job With Top NHL Club.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Cary Eades -- GM/Head Coach, Fargo Force

Because of his ties to North Dakota and the Fargo Force, Cary Eades gets a nod in our list -- but also because of his extensive experience in amateur hockey.

He played collegiately for the University of North Dakota (1978-82) then played professionally for the St. Louis Blues for two seasons.

Eades served two separate stints as an assistant at North Dakota. He worked under Gino Gasparini (alongside Dean Blais) from 1984-91. His most recent employment at UND was under Dave Hakstol from 2004-12.

In addition to his collegiate experience, Eades has coached high school hockey in Minnesota, and served two stints in the USHL.

In 1991, Eades began a two-year run with the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) where he compiled an 86-46-7 record. Eades won the 1993 National Junior Championship with Dubuque.

Eades spent 11 seasons as the head coach of boy's hockey at Warroad (MN) High School. He posted an overall record of 237-62-6 and led the team to three State Class "A" championships and seven Section 8A championships. In 1996, he was named Minnesota State High School Coach of the Year.

In 2012, Eades joined the Sioux Fall Stampede as Head Coach and General Manager, inheriting a team that had finished in last place overall in the USHL. In his first season, he led the team to a first-place Western Conference regular season title. Eades was named USHL Coach of the year that season.

In 2015, Sioux Falls won the Clark Cup Championship under Eades. He compiled a 125-70-14 record with the organization.

Eades is currently the head coach and general manager of the Fargo Force. The team currently sits in fourth-place in the Western Conference standings.

Eades discusses winning the 2015 USHL Clark Cup: 



Pros: Killer Mustache. Extensive Head Coaching Experience at the High School, Junior and Collegiate Levels. Successful at Each of His Coaching Stops.

Cons: Might Not Want to Leave the Red River Valley for an Assistant Position.

 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Mike Gabinet -- Head Coach, NAIT

Gabinet is a former standout Maverick defenseman who has been working his way up the coaching ranks in the ACAC. He is currently the head coach for the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Ooks in Edmonton, Alberta (a position he was elevated to in the summer of 2015). He had been a full-time associate coach with the team for three seasons prior to his promotion.

Under Gabinet's leadership this season, NAIT went undefeated in their regular season (32-0) and recently won the ACAC hockey championship.

Gabinet played professionally for nine years in various stints around the world -- including the Edmonton Oilers's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons.

His grandfather (Clare Drake) is one of the most successful CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) coaches of all time.

Gabinet is a smart, knowledgable and likable individual.

Profile of Mike Gabinet (March 24, 2016):

 

Pros: Up-and-Coming Head Coach in the Canandian College Ranks. Young. Ties to UNO.

Cons: Born in Edmonton. Might Prefer to Stay in Canada.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


George Gwozdecky -- Head Coach, Valor Christian

George Gwozdecky is a familiar face to UNO Hockey fans. The long-tenured head coach at Denver  University posted 19 very successful seasons (1994-2013) with the Pioneers (including back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005).

Some would question including Gwozdecky in our list because he is in 60s, and might not be interested in serving in an assistant's capacity, or dealing with the grind of the college hockey season.

Gwozdecky was fired from Denver in 2013 after 12 consecutive seasons where the Pioneers won 20 or more games. The team made the NCAA tournament for six straight seasons leading up to his termination, and made 12 appearances during his tenure at the school. He compiled a 443-267-64 record.

His coaching pedigree is long and distinguished, and he won multiple coaching honors during his career. Prior to Denver, Gwozdecky was the head coach at Miami University (1989-94) and Wisconsin-River Falls (1981-84).

He is the only man to win national hockey titles as a player, assistant and head coach.

In 2013, Gwozdecky joined the staff of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He served in an assistant capacity for two seasons with the organization (coaching the team's power play unit). It's been reported that he missed working with amateur players, and returned to Colorado after his two-year contract with Tampa Bay was complete.

Last year, Gwozdecky took over the hockey program at Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo. He had initially inquired about aiding in the school's coaching search before ultimately taking the job himself.

His reputation for coaching sound, disciplined hockey has helped turn the program around in his first season, and Gwozdecky has suggested he is there for the long haul.

Pros: Elite Success at the Collegiate Level. Coaches Sound, Fundamental Hockey.

Cons: Might Be Unwilling to Take Assistant Role. In the Latter Stages of His Career.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Steve Miller -- Director of Hockey, Air Force

Miller was the associate head coach in 2014-15 for the Providence Friars -- playing an integral role in the team's 2015 NCAA Championship. According to USCHO.com, Miller designed the faceoff play that allowed Brandon Tanev to score the go-ahead goal against Boston University in the championship game.

Prior to his brief stint at Providence, he served as an assistant for 20 seasons with the Denver Pioneers. He was also the first general manager and head coach for the Madison Capitols (USHL expansion team).

At Denver, Miller coached and recruited 41 NHL draft picks, 55 All-WCHA selections, 15 All-Americans and a Hobey Baker Memorial Award Winner.

Miller has a young family, and it sounds as if he left Providence to be closer to his family.

(And after having visited Rhode Island twice, I can understand why he wanted to return to Colorado.)

He brings considerable recruiting and coaching experience, and has worked with successful programs in an assistant's capacity.

Pros: Long-Tenured Assistant. Coached For Two National Championship Programs.

Cons: Might Be Reluctant to Leave Colorado.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


John Faulkner -- Assistant Coach, Omaha Lancers

While Faulkner might not have the longest résumé, the former UNO goaltender has strong ties to the program (and is the winningest goalie in the program's history).

Faulkner has spent the past three seasons as an assistant on the Omaha Lancers (USHL) coaching staff -- he joined the Lancers after graduating from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in business administration.

He has worked with goalies in his capacity as a Lancers assistant.

Pros: Ties to the UNO Program. Lots of Potential. Understands Goaltending.

Cons: Limited Coaching Experience. Early in His Career.