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, 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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Could B1G Changes Ever Come to UNO Hockey?

By Jon Brooks

Conference realignment has become a harsh reality in collegiate athletics. We've seen the fabric of long-standing geographic rivalries and institutional congruence torn apart by the zeal for lucrative television contracts.

It has become "survival of the fittest" among D-1 colleges and universities across the country. The once stable landscape has shifted into a pattern of unending shuffling and positioning.

The NCAA Men's Ice Hockey landscape changed most recently when Penn State moved their club program up to the D-1 level. That move meant six Big Ten member schools would sponsor D-1 programs -- the minimum number required to start a conference in the NCAA.

The move left the remaining WCHA and CCHA member schools scrambling to preserve their fortunes.

In the ensuing vaccuum, eight of the stronger WCHA and CCHA institutions forged ahead with plans to start what would become the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC). Notre Dame joined Hockey East (HEA) and the remaining schools aligned under the WCHA banner.

Notre Dame recently announced that it will be leaving Hockey East to join the Big Ten Hockey Conference as an affiliate member in the 2017-18 season.

The move leaves Hockey East with 11 member schools, and B1G Hockey with seven.

Odd numbers aren't typically ideal in a conference structure, and South Bend's move has created a flurry of discussion about a possible 8th B1G Hockey member, and a 12th Hockey East member.

Jason Gonzales of the Minneapolis Star Tribune speculates about the B1G possibilities in an article published on March 24:

While Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviola says he doesn't "think there is a natural rush to go from seven to eight," you have to believe they have their eye on someone. 

Many have predicted this move will open the door for Arizona State to join B1G Hockey as an affiliate member. The size of that school and their membership in the Pac-12 are seen as appealing attributes. ASU has suggested that they would be more comfortable in a conference with schools the size and scope of those in the B1G Hockey Conference.

The question is whether the Big Ten would buck the predictable and find an eighth member institution that brings a solid hockey pedigree. As Gonzales points out, "North Dakota would be an obvious choice for immediate success and facilities, but it is comfortable in the NCHC."

But how "comfortable" is North Dakota in the NCHC? Would they entertain offers from another conference?

North Dakota represents the glue that holds the NCHC together. They are a true "hockey school" with solid financial stamina, bringing warm bodies to conference tournaments and offering a tremendous hockey pedigree.

If Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany is feeling especially bold, he could make a move for the Fighting Hawks. If his moves as commissioner illustrate one thing, it's that he isn't bashful about increasing the reach and scope of the Big Ten Conference. 

Before someone brings up the point that the NCHC has been "more competitive" than the B1G on the ice the past three seasons, these decisions are less about the sport itself, and more about cold, hard cash. 

Some have also wondered about the possibility of UNO representing the "University of Nebraska System" in the Big Ten Hockey Conference. The NU Board of Regents governs three schools in Nebraska -- University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska at Kearney. All three schools share programs and resources, and use the same fundraising arm (the NU Foundation). 

(There have also been murmurings about UNL eventually starting a B1G Hockey program of its own and playing at Pinnacle Bank Arena...)

Since this entire piece is about hypotheticals in the "hyper-realignment" world we live in, I've recently been thinking about the concept of Omaha and North Dakota approaching Big Ten Hockey together at some point down the road. 

I know it might seem a far-fetched idea, but North Dakota would have a natural allure to the B1G, and Omaha brings an established media market that is well-versed in the Big Ten conference. 

Moreover, the Big Ten would have an opportunity to grab two well-funded and supported programs west of the Mississippi River -- programs boasting beautiful facilities. Add in Arizona State and you'd have a fairly nice 10-team hockey conference. 

I'm sure the Big Ten would prefer a scenario where schools like Iowa, Illinois or Nebraska started hockey programs in order to help preserve "conference purity." But considering the financial realities of collegiate athletics (Title IX, etc.) it might be folly to think such a thing will happen in the next decade. 

Some will question whether or not UNO or UND would ever want to make a deal with the devil...or ever seriously consider the possibility. 

Considering that Johns Hopkins competes in the B1G in lacrosse and Denver competes in the Big East in lacrosse, conferences have shown a willingness to bolster numbers in "niche" sports with schools outside the norm. 

The national TV exposure (the B1G boasts multiple cable channels) is a carrot that could attract a school like North Dakota should the B1G ever come calling. 

That said, being an "affilate member" means you are perpetually on the outside looking in, and such a school could find itself shoved aside at some point in the future. 

From an institutional point of view, the current NCHC schools are well aligned in terms of size and scope. From a spectator point of view, it would be a shame to have anything thwart the conference's current makeup. The NCHC has proven itself to be one of the finest conferences in terms of competition the last three seasons. 

The Big Ten Hockey Conference has struggled in terms of postseason success the past three seasons. No one knows what the "powers that be" in the B1G might do in a quest to bolster the numbers. 

Omaha (and Nebraska in general) has proven itself a good market for the Big Ten. The Big Ten Baseball Tournament featured record crowds when it was held in Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park in 2014, and the city will host again in 2016 and 2018 (the 2014 championship game was the largest single-game conference tournament attendance in NCAA history). 

(Omaha, being an event town, has a penchant for supporting high-profile sporting events like the College World Series, and I belive it could support the Big Ten Hockey Tournament if held here...).

The appeal of playing in a conference with "name schools" like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State and Notre Dame has to be appealing merely for the marquee value (especially in a market like Omaha, where hockey doesn't have the intense following it does in other parts of the country). 

It is interesting to speculate on potential realignment. Whether or not any of the notions presented are in the realm of possibility is subject to debate. One thing is for certain... UNO has to be wary of the evolving landscape, continually watch their back, and try to read the tea leaves for the future.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Shifting NCAA Hockey Season Could Showcase Sport in Best Possible Light

The concourse in TD Garden at the 2015 Frozen Four in Boston.

By Jon Brooks

Many years ago, former UNO Hockey Coach Mike Kemp brought up an idea about how he would be interested in shifting the start of the collegiate hockey season forward by a month or so.

In the intervening years, that concept stayed with me. I've gone back-and-forth as I have mused on whether it would be a better setup for the sport, or if the status quo is as it should be.

His argument was that you'd avoid the "heart" of the NCAA football season in October and early November, and also avoid much of the NCAA basketball postseason in March and April.

Considering the fact that NCAA hockey is largely a niche sport, it is worth considering ideas that might showcase the sport in the best possible light.

The obvious argument against starting the season in the middle of November is the fact that you'd end the season in early May. Such a move would interfere with NHL playoffs, and create problematic scheduling issues for a Frozen Four held at potential NHL venues.

That said, avoiding the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament each March would help alleviate the problem of "competing collegiate interests" trying to nab national media coverage. In addition, ESPN broadcasts NCAA Women's Basketball tournament and National Invitational Tournament (NIT) games on its family of channels -- oftentimes ESPN and ESPN2. That coverage has the effect of pushing the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey tournament games to ESPNU, ESPNNews and ESPN3 (which is their online streaming channel).

One could make the argument that moving college hockey's postseason out of the shadow of "March Madness" would better position the sport for national media coverage (something college hockey sorely lacks).

It could also change the in-season dynamic of the sport. Shifting the season would allow for more non-conference games to be played after the first of the year. Teams currently play some appealing non-conference matchups in October and early November -- games that might be better showcased after Jan. 1.

Conceptually speaking, it would be interesting to see some of those matchups (some having considrable marquee value) in January and early February. Such a move might better position those games for national television coverage (it would certainly be a more attractive time than during the football-heavy fall schedule), and put a greater sense of "importance" on such games in terms of perceived value for fans.

I don't want to meander on too much or go off on a tangent, but I've been intrigued by the notion of having one weekend in the second half of the hockey season reserved for "bracket buster" type games that would allow hockey-related media outlets to determine a handful of matchups with significance in the overall Pairwise Ranking comparisons (this might not be realistic from budget perspective, but it could be terrific from a competition perspective).

March is typically the time of year the hockey season heats up. It can sometimes feel like things are winding down just when the season is becoming interesting.

As I suggested above, NCAA basketball sucks up much of the oxygen this time of year. That point is evident each season when we go to various local sports bars and try to get them to commit a TV to the NCAA Ice Hockey tournament -- at the same time a slew of basketball games are on the air.

Making a shift would mean regular season collegiate ice hockey games (which tend to have local and regional TV coverage) would still be in the regular season at that point in time. The NCHC conference playoffs (as an example) wouldn't start until mid-April, and the Frozen Four wouldn't be until early May.

As long as the NCAA is tied to NHL venues for the Frozen Four, the possibility of shifting the season becomes much more difficult. Such a move might mean different, non-NHL venues would have to be considered. That would limit options significantly. The unknown (to me, anyway) is whether or not there is a non-NHL venue that could accomodate the event.

One other dynamic affecting the proposed season shift is the potential for professional teams to offer playing time to college players whose seasons have ended in early March each year.

There has always been something unsettling about watching college hockey players "drop out" in the middle of a semester to pursue pro careers -- essentially forfeiting credit hours. Shifting the season would mean those student-athletes wouldn't join pro teams until the following fall as AHL teams would have likely closed out their playoff chances by that point.

Whether or not we see a shift in the current NCAA Ice Hockey season structure, it is interesting to consider the possibilities. The sport needs to be allowed room to breathe, and the NCAA needs to see if it can find ways to promote and enhance the sport to increase the overall profile and prestige of the current system — or make a change for the future.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Recruit Update: Teemu Pulkkinen

First of all, not THAT Teemu Pulkkinen.

THIS Teemu Pulkkinen. Our Teemu Pulkkinen. The one who is committed to play for the Mavs next year.

UNO Recruit Teemu Pulkkinen

This interesting tidbit came across a weekly release from the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers last week:

"Omaha recruit Teemu Pulkkinen (15 goals, 16 assists) will no longer play the remainder of the season, according to Varady, because of NCAA eligibility issues … Pulkkinen recorded two goals and an assist in last Friday's 5-4 loss at Muskegon."


We were perplexed. What did that mean, exactly?

We think we've figured it out (although if you can provide more insight, feel free to post a comment, below).

We checked Teemu's birthday and he turned 21 on 3/13/16. There is an age limit for junior hockey, and it looks like he's reached it. The topic of 21-year-old freshmen is coming up next month on the NCAA docket, based on a submission by The Big 10.

You can read about that here:

This news doesn't seem to have any impact on him coming to UNO this fall (which is good news, because he had two goals and an assist in the Musketeer's 5-4 loss to Muskegon).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

NCHC Playoffs: Back to Denver: March 11-13, 2016

It's deja vu all over again as UNO returns to Magness Arena for the NCHC playoffs. For the first time in its short history in the conference (the conference has only been around for three seasons too), the Mavs will be on the road for the playoffs.

And it's "do or die" for the Mavs. Lose this weekend and the season is likely over. Win, and the path to a possible NCAA regional spot remains viable. UNO is currently in 15th place in the Pairwise, and Jim Dahl's "College Hockey Ranked" article outlines why a pair of wins are probably necessary to keep the Mavs season going. Read that here:

This weekend's games are a best-of-three series. Win two, and the Mavs would head to the Frozen Face-off in Minnesota for the first time ever.

The Mavs dropped to #17 in the USCHO poll this week, and dropped out of the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll entirely:

Headed into the postseason, it's time for awards!

Evan Weninger was named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team:

Jake was named to the NCHC All-Conference Second team. This is the third year Guentzel has received NCHC honors:

And Guentzel was the only Mav tapped for possible NCHC awards next week:
He's a finalist for NCHC Forward of the Year:

Here's the media roundup for this weekend's series

OMavs. com series preview article:

Here's the series preview from the Omaha World-Herald:

Here's the series preview article from the Denver Post: story after Friday's loss:

Game Times:
Friday night's game is at 8:37 p.m. Central time.
Saturday night's game is at 8:07 p.m. Central time
Sunday night's game (if necessary), will be at 8:07 p.m. Central time
(Don't forget to change your clocks, though, with Daylight Saving Time!)

TV Coverage:
All games will be on

Radio Coverage:
All games will be broadcast on 1180 AM (1180 The Zone 2). Dave Ahlers will provide play-by-play on the radio broadcasts and Terry Leahy will provide color commentary. Coverage begins at 8:07 Central Friday and 7:37 p.m. Central Saturday (and Sunday, if necessary) with the First national Bank Pre-Game Show.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Omaha vs. Denver: March 4-5, 2016 in Denver

Wow, it's hard to believe that we're already at the end of the regular season. What a roller coaster ride it's been. From starting the season 8-0 at Baxter Arena, to winning 10 non-conference games, many of us (me included) thought this would be "the year" for the Mavs. (Especially after last year's magical run through the playoffs, culminating in the team's first Frozen Four appearance.)

But the departure of Avery Peterson at Christmas seems to have knocked the Mavs off the track. Or something did. Looking at the team from the outside in, it's hard to know what's going on. Dean Blais described the team as "fragile" this week. Phil Aldrich called them a "hot mess."

Whatever's going on, I hope they can turn it around. They certainly have the potential. They need some confidence. And some scoring.

It's going to be tough. Denver is on a roll at the moment. They're 12-1-3 since the start of the year, and are on a seven-game winning streak. The Mavs, on the other hand, are slumping, having been swept by UND and St. Cloud the past two weekends.

No matter what happens this weekend in Denver, the Mavs are going on the road for the playoffs next week. No home ice for us. But we have a chance to improve our positioning in the NCHC with the outcomes of the games this weekend, so there's something to play for!

For your reading enjoyment, the NCHC has prepared a PDF with all the possible seeding possibilities:

Here's a roundup of this week's media:

Mavs fall to #15 in both national polls: series preview -- #15 UNO at #7 Denver:

Omaha World-Herald Friday night preview -- "Mavericks seek to right the ship against Denver"

Denver Post series preview:

Game Times:
Friday night's game is at 8:37 p.m. Central time.
Saturday night's game is at 8:07 p.m. Central time.

TV Coverage:
Both games will be on (That's one thing I like this year compared to last year. Last year's Denver games were not on for some reason that I can't remember. Good to be able to watch them on NCHC this time around.)

Radio Coverage: 
Both games will be broadcast on 1180 AM (1180 The Zone 2). Dave Ahlers will provide radio play-by-play and Terry Leahy will provide color commentary. Coverage begins at 8:07 Central Friday and 7:37 p.m. Central Saturday with the First National Bank Pre-Game Show.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Flashback to 2006 - UNO Hockey in Desperate Need

(This was originally posted in the Mavpuck group on Facebook.)

By Jon Brooks

A little Sunday pep talk here…

A decade ago, UNO was in need of points to secure home ice throughout the early rounds of the CCHA playoffs. That was a team that rattled off an 11-game "unbeaten" streak at one point in the season.

Bridget was leading our bus trip that weekend to Kalamazoo. We were certain we'd lock things up.

Krutov, the MavBoni driver, came up to me before Saturday's game and promised a win (after falling to the Broncos on Friday night). He was so sure of this, he said, he'd streak around the bus in the WMU parking lot after the game if we didn't grab at least a point.

Suffice it to say, Krutov is a man of his word, and the people of Kalamazoo got to see more than they bargained for under the mercury-vapor lights that night.

Two weeks later, we were in Marquette, Mich., for the second round of the CCHA playoffs. We suffered a sweep at the hands of Northern Michigan, and had to do the proverbial "walk of fan shame" past the NMU party bus as their fans danced on the roof with flaming brooms in hand.

We thought we were done for. We didn't know that we would eventually make the NCAA tournament (our first appearance ever, in Worcester, Mass.) by a whisker, and I'd get to see an ocean for the first time in my life.

I realize the guys need some wins, and need to get some things figured out in a hurry.

But I've seen way too many weird things happen to count them out…