By Avery Wenck, Sports Editor
As my flight for Detroit departed at 6:05 Wednesday morning, reality set in.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s hockey team was actually headed to the Frozen Four for the first time ever.
This university that so much of us love is finally getting recognized for what it does best: work hard.
At the beginning of this year, the UNO Mavericks weren’t seen as a serious contender. The NCAA playoffs were a long-shot for these underdogs. In fact, Omaha was predicted a preseason sixth place finish in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference — which is noted as college hockey’s most difficult conference.
The NCHC is to college hockey what the SEC West is to college football. When conference play had finished, the Mavericks found themselves in third place with the opportunity to host an NCHC quarterfinal.
UNO’s Head Coach Dean Blais had foresight. He knew the Mavs success was possible much longer than anyone else.
Another virtue these guys play with is teamwork.
In his press conference this afternoon, Blais said that this is the “ultimate team he’s ever had.” He talked about how the dynamic has changed over the course of this season, but how it hasn’t affected how the players view each other.
“For the older guys to step aside and see some of the younger guys step in on specialty teams and not get jealous, as a coach you take a lot of pride in watching these guys work their magic over the course of the season,” Blais said.
The hard work and togetherness that this team shows isn’t restricted to just them, though. There has been an increased togetherness around campus in our diverse student body. The hard work has also shown throughout this season in the undying support of this hockey team through highs and lows.
Students have continuously filled the CenturyLink Center throughout this season, helping to draw crowds of more than 12,000 and filling the student section into the second tier. Also, 50 students travelled to South Bend, Indiana, on a 10-hour bus trip to watch their team compete and win their first ever NCAA postseason game. As a student myself, I can tell you that’s no easy task.
That was one bus, now there are three currently on the road headed for Boston. Three busses filled and departed campus this morning with tired college students who are undoubtedly as busy as they have been this semester with graduation and finals coming up. Still, they are making the trip to Boston to support a team that has made them, the faculty and the city proud.
That support could possibly be the difference as the Mavericks face-off against Providence, whose fans will have to travel no more than 60 miles to watch this game. Compare that to the nearly 1,500 miles UNO’s students are traveling and it’s easy to see why these are undoubtedly the best fans in college hockey.