Monday, March 20, 2017

Getting The Band Back Together: The Case For Mike Kemp's Return as Head Coach

The prevailing sentiment during the 2016-17 campaign for the UNO Hockey program was that Coach Blais's time was drawing to a close.

As the team found itself with a so-so record in the second half of the season -- which included two embarrassing losses to a less-than-spectacular North Dakota team in Omaha -- the suggestion that a change might be in order once again surfaced.

At the time, a few souls on social media suggested that former UNO Head Coach Mike Kemp (on staff since 2009 as an assistant athletic director) should step in and take the reins of the faltering Mavericks. 

In the wake of Dean Blais's resignation last week -- and factoring in the state budget crisis that is impacting all government operations, including the university system -- some have suggested that UNO could save money by putting Mike Kemp back in charge of the program.

While the notion might be the ramblings of a vocal few on the web, the idea does have merit. In fact, it is an intriguing idea.

Here's why:

  1. Many believe UNO assistant coach Mike Gabinet will be named the next head coach. Be that as it may, some are wary regarding Gabinet's lack of experience in the NCAA, and no long-term experience recruiting at this level. 
  2. Much has been made of the fact that Dean Blais never purchased a home in Omaha. Some have implied he was more of a "commuter coach" who didn't fully invest himself in the practice of schmoozing boosters and fans.
  3. As a result, many have suggested UNO needs a coach who understands the unique culture at UNO -- even if it means sacrificing experience.
  4. Even though UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts recently told a local radio talk show that financial pressures wouldn't impact hiring a new coach, it still is a factor in every decision UNO makes from an institutional point of view.

Mike Kemp might be the most reasonable choice -- especially if UNO sees Mike Gabinet as the future, but is worried about his experience.

Kemp satisfies all the criteria listed above. He has invested himself in Omaha the past 21 years. Prior to his stint as UNO head coach and assistant AD, he was a college assistant for 20 years, and was even the head coach of UNO's upstart club team in 1975. 

Kemp is perpetually a fixture at various UNO sporting events throughout the year -- representing athletics and the university in his official capacity. 

I've known Mike Kemp since the program began, and worked with him in various capacities when I was on the UNO Blue Line Club Board of Directors. 

If there are concerns about Gabinet being ready to pull the strings of a team two years removed from the Frozen Four, Kemp leading the team for a few seasons would allow Gabinet to more fully acclimate to the job.

It would also allow Kemp and Gabinet to find another assistant who can handle the bulk of the recruiting duties. I would imagine that former Maverick Rob Facca -- currently a Chicago Blackhawk scout -- would be a top choice for recruiting coordinator in that scenario. 

Prior to his NHL gig, Facca was an assistant with Northern Michigan University and Western Michigan University -- and recruited 18 players on the Bronco squad that is a #2 seed in this year's NCAA tournament. 

With Kemp as head coach, I think he could convince Facca to take an assistant position with the program. Facca has a home in Omaha and remains connected to the team's coaching staff and alumni. In addition to Facca, former UNO asssitant (and player) Nick Fohr -- currently a coach with the U.S. National Development Team -- might be an attractive option.

I believe Mike Kemp is 64 (he was 43 when UNO hired him away from Wisconsin in 1996). If, in our hypothetical scenario, UNO was to name Kemp head coach, it likely wouldn't be a long-term job.

It would be for the short term, provide stability to the program, and allow the assistants to "season a bit" in the "meat grinder" that is the NCHC -- before taking over in a few years.

It would also allow Mike Kemp to go out as he started … with UNO. 

Kemp was 194-223-57 in his 12 seasons coaching UNO. While the record is sub .500, you're talking about starting from nothing. This isn't like Arizona State or Penn State -- schools that had successful club programs prior to moving up to D-1 (and UNO doesn't have athletics that play in a "power 5" conference). 

The record doesn't tell the whole story. Kemp teams got a lot out of players who weren't blue chippers. In his third season, the Mavs made the CCHA championship game at Joe Louis Arena. In his fourth season, UNO won 24 games and made the conference semifinals at Joe Louis Arena. 

UNO made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 2006, and had its first legit Hobey Baker candidate in Scott Parse. 

It might not have always been pretty, but the program accomplished a considerable amount during those years. 

I'm sure most former coaches have those moments where they say, "If I could do it again, I would do X, Y and Z differently..."

Two of the finest head coaches in Division 1 hockey today are former Kemp assistants -- David Quinn (Boston University) and Steve Rohlik (Ohio State). 

Here's a chance for Kemp to setup the next generation of leadership, and use his 30+ years of coaching experience behind the bench, once again.

Mike Kemp is likely the most experienced and qualified candidate for the job. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

UNO Hockey at Colorado College -- Jan. 13-14, 2017

Well, last week's series against North Dakota didn't go all that well. The Mavs lost 9-1 and 7-3. Blurgh.

The good news is, Colorado College is at the bottom of the league, so we've got that going for us. However, they're currently on a hot streak, and the Mavs defense is suspect after last weekend, so we'll see...

Series preview articles:

Omaha World-Herald series preview article: article:

Colorado College Tigers article:

Friday, 8:07 p.m. Central
Saturday, 7:07 p.m. Central

Radio/TV Coverage:
Both games will be broadcast live on 1180 AM (The Zone 2). Dave Ahlers will provide play-by-play and Terry Leahy will give color commentary. Coverage begins at 7:37 p.m. on Friday night and 6:37 p.m. Saturday night with the First National Bank Pre-Game Show.

Friday night's game will be available on ASN; both games will be available on the
Live Audio and Stats:
Live audio link here.

Next Weekend:
The Mavs take on Miami (OH) in a conference series next weekend at Baxter Arena.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Omaha vs. North Dakota, Jan. 6-7 at Baxter Arena

Usually, when the defending national champions come to town (especially when they're ranked #7 and the Mavs are in the top 20), you'd see UNO athletics hyping that fact.

Nope. Not this year.

They did do a preview video -- which is very nice -- but there was no mention of UND as defending national champions, or the team rankings.

So, when you see empty seats at Baxter Arena this weekend (or worse, fans in UND apparel), remember that.

The UNO/UND "rivalry" series is always an interesting one, especially at Baxter Arena. The Mavs did claim one game last season -- a shootout win in Grand Forks in mid-January. North Dakota took both games in Omaha in late February last year, but the F'n Hawks this year are not the same team that claimed the championship last year.

North Dakota has a record of 10-6-3 overall and 3-4-1-1/0 in the NCHC, putting them in sixth place in the NCHC. They are ranked #7 in both national polls. UND has been very effective on the road, with a record of 4-3-1 in away games this season.

The Mavs have also been "road warriors," but have had better luck at Baxter Arena recently, having swept Lake Superior State last weekend in non-conference action. The Mavs are 11-6-3 this season and 4-4-0 in the NCHC (fifth place). UNO is #18 in the USCHO poll and "received votes" in the most recent USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

By the way, don't forget that Sunday is Skate With the Mavs.

Media Roundup Leading to the Series:
OMavs series preview:

UND Athletics series preview:

Tony Boone's Omaha World-Herald series preview:

OMavs weekly news release:

This is the one series of the year where tickets are consistently hard to come by.

Friday tickets on Ticketmaster ($20-$27):

Few tickets remain for Friday:

Ticketmaster is showing only 3 seats available for Saturday ($20-$27):

Ticket Express has tickets available at well above face value ($45-$125) for Friday:

Ticket Express has a few tickets available for Saturday night ($33-$75):

There are currently no tickets for sale within the MavPuck Group on Facebook (must be approved for group membership to see the posts), but you can post a "tickets wanted" post:

Radio/TV Coverage:
Friday and Saturday night's games will be available by subscription ($) on 

In addition, Friday night's game is available statewide on NET or via live stream here:

Saturday's game will be telecast live nationally by American Sports Network. There's some confusion on the UNO vs UND news releases on who is doing the play-by-play and analysis. UNO says Dave Ellis will call the game, and Pat Micheletti will provide color commentary. UND's news release says Dave Ahlers will handle play-by-play with analysis from #oldbull David Brisson and Larry Punteney will serve as rinkside reporter. Regardless, it will be televised.

Radio coverage begins with the First National Bank Pre-Game Show at 6:30 p.m. both nights. We know that Terry Leahy will give color commentary and analysis. Who knows about Dave Ahlers (see above).

Live Audio and Stats:
Live audio link here.
Live stats (Friday) here.
Live stats (Saturday) here.

Next Weekend:
The "road warriors" head out again for another conference series, taking on Colorado College in Colorado Springs on Friday, Jan. 13 and Saturday, Jan. 14.