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Hockey

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Jake Guentzel
photo courtesy Omaha Athletics

Ray Koch
Sports Editor

Whether he’s wearing an Omaha Mavericks or a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, Jake Guentzel is in control of the ice when the puck is on his stick.

The former University of Nebraska-Omaha standout, Guentzel finished off his senior year with the Mavericks and immediately went to his drafted team, the Pittsburgh Penguins minor league affiliate. Out of nowhere, with 40 games left in the regular season, Jake got moved up the NHL team to play with longtime idol, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Jake made quite the impact for a rookie, scoring 16 goals to go along with 17 assists. That totaled 33 points in 40 career games—as a rookie. Yes; he put up better numbers in that span than the MVP candidate, Sid the Kid. Come playoff time, Guentzel found himself on the first line, making plays and carving defenses with the original “prodigy,” Sidney Crosby.

The two seem to be a good pair. Their play has helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup finals. Meanwhile, Jake has scored in 13 of 22 postseason games, and is the leading goal-scorer in the playoffs. Guentzel continues to get even more impressive, as he scored the game-winning goal in each of the first two Stanley Cup final games. He is a real triple threat every time he has the puck at his skates; he can be a sniper when his team needs a goal, or he can deke himself perfectly into position to set up another teammate for an open shot. It’s really easy to forget that this is the same kid that was playing college hockey for UNO only a year ago.

He has become the first player, and the only rookie, to score in each of the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final since 1997—twenty years. He even had time to check up on the current UNO hockey team, FaceTiming them periodically throughout the playoffs.

Not bad for a kid from Minnesota, who decided to fly south and play hockey at a Maverick program that had just made the switch to Division I. It seemed that decision benefited him well, as he’s making headlines across the country with the “who is this guy” persona. I guess you have to tip your cap to his former University for his progression as well. Not too bad, Omaha.

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Photo Courtesy of Century Link Center

Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

The CenturyLink Center can hold up to 17,560 fans. Imagine if each and every one of those seats was covered in red, white and black colors, and engulfed with eager Maverick fans ready to unleash the furry.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln athletic department put in a bid to host the NCAA Frozen Four in 2019 and 2022 at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Why does this matter? The University of Nebraska at Omaha could potentially play its biggest game of its hockey program on home-ice.

UNO made its first Frozen Four in 2015, and have showed that their hockey program is headed into the right direction. The Mavs are in the toughest hockey conference in the country in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, but good competition only strengthens a team’s mental and physical capacity.

So, how is UNL relevant to this conversation?

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln would not be able to host the event at the Pinnacle Bank Arena due to only being able to hold a maximum of 16,000 seats. The Frozen Four requires at least 18,000 spectators to attend, which is why it has been held at professional hockey arenas, such as the home of the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks in the last three years.

Despite not having a hockey program, UNL would still be hosting a major college-sporting event, which never looks bad on a resume. Butch Hug, Nebraska’s associate athletic director for facilities and events, mentioned in the Omaha World-Herald that hosting the Frozen Four in Omaha would be a great turnout not just for UNO, but hockey fans in general.

“Hockey would be a natural here because so many people are interested in the sport here in the Midwest,” Hug said. “We’re centrally located, and we have a facility that has a proven track record.

The ‘Clink’ would be a great homecoming for the Mavericks, who have not played there since the 2014-15 season. After the Baxter Arena was finished, UNO moved west to Aksarben to skate in a venue dedicated for hockey.

In the 12 seasons UNO played at the CenturyLink Center, the Mavs were not able to host the Frozen Four. Now that they have their own arena, Hug mentioned there are no regulations against hosting the event at the CentruyLink Center.

“Once they relocated to their own arena, the facility was available to be considered,” Hug said. “Now we can do it.”

The NCAA is expected to announce the winner of the bid April 18.

There’s a reoccurring theme for Nebraska schools that host a major event in sports. When UNL hosted the women’s volleyball final four in 2006 and in 2015, Nebraska went on to win both titles in Omaha.

UNO could fall into this theme to win its first ever NCAA Division I title in not just hockey, but in any sport. Hosting the Frozen Four would immediately put UNO on the radar for other schools, coaches and players, but winning the whole shebang would elevate UNO’s ranking in sports as a legitimate Division I competitor that fans have been waiting for.

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Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha ended its 23-day search for a new hockey head coach when the university announced Mike Gabinet would take over as the third coach of the UNO hockey program.

Yes, Gordon Bombay would have been a fun choice, but the reality is UNO landed a fresh coach that has extensive knowledge of the game, and will be a great fit with this young team. UNO athletic director Trev Alberts said in a press conference that not only did the UNO athletic board approve of the hire, but the players also gave him high praise.

“It also was very important to us to get the feedback from the players and to a man, they all endorsed Mike as the kind of coach who is a great teacher and some-one who could help our program take the next step,” Alberts said.

Gabinet logged 130 games for UNO from 2000-04 and is currently 10th in school history in scoring with 47 total points as a defenseman. He went on to play eight seasons of professional hockey in the American Hockey League, the ECHL and in Europe.

The former Maverick went back to his native land after his playing days and started coaching in 2012 as an associate coach at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He was later bumped up to head coach in 2015 and led NAIT to an undefeated season and an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship, and was named ACAC coach of the year his first year as the top dog. The guy is a winner and Alberts agreed.

“We undertook an extensive search, and Mike rose to the top of our candidate pool because of his detailed, comprehensive approach to creating a sustainable culture of excellence,” Alberts said. “He has the passion and understanding of what it means to be a Maverick, and he has the ability to institute the kind of structure and attention to detail that will allow us to be successful in college hockey’s toughest conference.

Gabinet came to Omaha in April 2016 when he joined the program as an assistant coach. He released a statement following his hire stating his appreciation of the school and the hockey program.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to be the head coach of my alma mater and excited to build on what’s been established here by Mike Kemp and Dean Blais,” Gabinet said. “I came to Omaha last year because of my passion for this program and the great experience I had here as a student-athlete.”

The new head coach will fill the shoes of the former eight-year head coach Dean Blais. Blais took UNO to its first Frozen Four in 2015 and aided in turning the hockey program as the focus of UNO athletics. Associate athletic director and former UNO hockey head coach Mike Kemp is eager to have a young mind help mentor UNO’s student-athletes of the game.

“It is a great moment for a program like ours to have an alumnus take over as its head coach,” Kemp said. “I have known Mike since he was a junior player in Canada, and I always admired him as a character person who was a great leader and someone who cared about his teammates. As a player, he analyzed what we did and made respectful suggestions. He was a student of the game, even as a student-athlete.

Though hockey season has ended for UNO, Gabinet is eager to get his team focused for next season.

“I’m amazed by how far UNO has come since my playing days and I’m excited about where we’re going,” Gabinet said.

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Photo courtesy Omaha Athletics

Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha ended its 23-day search for a new hockey head coach when the university announced this afternoon that Mike Gabinet would take over as the third coach of the UNO hockey program. Does that name sound familiar?

Yes, Gordon Bombay would have been a fun choice, but the reality is UNO landed a fresh coach that has extensive knowledge of the game, and will be a great fit with this young team. UNO athletic director Trev Alberts said in a press conference that not only did the UNO athletic board approve of the hire, but the players also gave him high praise.

“It also was very important to us to get the feedback from the players and to a man, they all endorsed Mike as the kind of coach who is a great teacher and someone who could help our program take the next step,” Alberts said.

Gabinet logged 130 games for UNO from 2000-04 and is currently 10th in school history in scoring with 47 total points as a defenseman. He went on to play eight seasons of professional hockey in the American Hockey League, the ECHL and in Europe.

The former Maverick went back to his native land after his playing days and started coaching in 2012 as an associate coach at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He was later bumped up to head coach in 2015 and led NAIT to an undefeated season and an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship, and was named ACAC coach of the year his first year as the top dog. The guy is a winner and Alberts agrees.

“We undertook an extensive search, and Mike rose to the top of our candidate pool because of his detailed, comprehensive approach to creating a sustainable culture of excellence,” Alberts said.  “He has the passion and understanding of what it means to be a Maverick, and he has the ability to institute the kind of structure and attention to detail that will allow us to be successful in college hockey’s toughest conference.

Gabinet came to Omaha in April of 2016 when he joined the program as an assistant coach. He released a statement following his hire stating his appreciation of the school and the hockey program.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to be the head coach of my alma mater and excited to build on what’s been established here by Mike Kemp and Dean Blais,” Gabinet said. “I came to Omaha last year because of my passion for this program and the great experience I had here as a student-athlete.”

The new head coach will fill the shoes of the former eight-year head coach Dean Blais. Blais took UNO to its first Frozen Four in 2015 and aided in turning the hockey program as the focus of UNO athletics. Associate athletic director and former UNO hockey head coach Mike Kemp is eager to have a young mind help mentor UNO’s student-athletes of the game.

“It is a great moment for a program like ours to have an alumnus take over as its head coach,” Kemp said. “I have known Mike since he was a junior player in Canada, and I always admired him as a character person who was a great leader and someone who cared about his teammates.  As a player, he analyzed what we did and made respectful suggestions.  He was a student of the game, even as a student-athlete.

Though hockey season has ended for UNO, Gabinet is eager to get his team focused for next season.

“I’m amazed by how far UNO has come since my playing days and I’m excited about where we’re going,” Gabinet said.

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Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR
DISCLAIMER. THE TOPICS AND ISSUES COVERED IN THIS EDITION ARE NOT REAL NEWS.
… HAPPY APRIL FOOLS DAY.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey head coach Dean Blais stepped down from the program March 14. After eight years with the Mavericks, the former coach went on the hunt to find a proper replacement to fill his big shoes.

And he found him.

Blais found an excellent replacement in former minor league star and American coaching legend Gordon Bombay. Bombay will take over as the new head coach for the hockey team effective immediately.

After searching for the likes of Wayne Gretzky or anyone ever involved in Herb Brooks’ coach-ing staff, UNO needed a reality check because they couldn’t afford most preferred options. Fortunately for Omaha, Bombay’s first year will be on the house courtesy of the Nebraska judicial system.

Bombay has had a long, ironic history with alcohol, and after receiving his second DUI, the proficient lawyer was sent to coach the Mavericks as a means of community service. Initially, Bombay was not a fan of his penance.

“I hate kids,” Bombay said. “They’re barely human.”

After meeting the players and the rest of the staff, Bombay has embraced his role as the new leader and face of the Omaha hockey squad. The new head coach will use his long history of the sport to teach the fundamentals. He has learned from his mistakes in his own hockey career, and will adjust in his coaching style.

“When I played hockey, I was a total hotshot,” Bombay said. “I tried to take control of every game. I wound up quitting.”

In his first act as new head coach, the arrogant yet knowledgeable former hockey player stressed fundamentals and conditioning before any real practice. He made it clear that his players needed to work on the art of passing, and to do this, he replaced the puck with an egg.

“Soft hands. You don’t shoot the puck to your teammate, you sail it to them,” Bombay said.
Bombay is infamously known for his secret weapon on offense known as the “Flying V”. Not only does this pose a threat to score at any time, but it is also a bonding experience the Mavericks can use to grow as a team.

“A team isn’t a bunch of kids out to win,” Bombay said. “A team is something you belong to, something you feel, something you have to earn.”

Indeed, Bombay stresses the importance of brotherhood and bonding for his team, as it will inevitably aid in their play on the ice. After their first practice, the head coach was heard shouting profusely to his new team.

“[Mavericks] fly together,” Bombay said. “[Mavericks] fly together!”

A lot of Bombay’s focus has been training sophomore goalie Alex Blankenburg in between the posts. The two have hit it off and have formed an immediate bond that is evident in Bombay’s nick-name “Goldberg” for his goalie. After the egg passing, Bombay tied Blankenburg to the goal in an attempt to clear all fear of the puck causing pain. Psychological warfare is Bombay’s expertise.

“This is your Bar Mitzvah, Goldberg,” Bombay said. “Today you become a man.”

When concluding his first practice, Bombay gathered the Mavericks and left them with one bit of advice.
“Stand tall, fly straight, USA!”

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Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s hockey team took a very bittersweet loss to its team after two players signed contracts to play professional hockey last week.

Senior Austin Ortega and junior Luc Snuggerud put their pens to paper and signed their John Handcock on a contract to earn a salary doing something they love.

Oretega will head back to his home state on the west coast and play just 30 miles away from where he grew up after signing an amateur tryout contract with the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League.

The California native was a finalist for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Forward of the Year for his effort on the season after finishing the year leading the conference with 20 goals and 27 assists for a total of 47 points in 38 games. Ortega finished his final year with three NCHC Offensive Player of the Week awards and was named the conference’s Player of the Month in December.

The senior finished his overall career in Omaha fourth best in scoring at UNO with 139 total points. His 70 goals and 69 career assists leaves him as one of the Mavericks’ best forwards to ever hit the ice. He is the first Maverick to tally three 20-goal seasons in his career, and he tied the NCAA record of most career game-winning goals with 23.

Though he will not be returning next season in Omaha, Ortega tweeted out a public thank you to the university and the hockey program on behalf of his four-year career at UNO.

“Thanks UNO for an incredible four years,” Ortega said. “I truly had the time of my life and made
unforgettable memories with life-long friends. Forever a Mav.”

Snuggerud will be leaving Omaha a year early after signing a three-year contract for the Chicago Blackhawks to join the National Hockey League.

The junior defenseman will forego his senior year after Chicago drafted him 141st overall in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL draft. Though he signed with a professional team, he will report to the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs.

Snuggerud finished his three years on a high note this season after being named to the NCHC’s All-Conference Second Team. His 11 goals, 20 assists and 31 points this season were all career highs, and he finished third in the conference with 18 power-play points.

As a freshman in 2014, he earned a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team with two goals and 14 assists in 39 games. Collectively, the Minnesota native finished his career at UNO with 17 total goals and 48 assists in 113 games and ranks in the top give in career scoring among UNO defensemen.

It will be sad to see these two great players leave Omaha, but the pride of the red and black will carry on in a national spotlight that just might make it into the TV’s in all of hockey fans’ homes.

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Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s hockey coach Dean Blais announced in a press conference yesterday that he will be stepping down as head coach and will not return to coach for next year.

“I have been extremely fortunate in my career to work in so many good places with so many people who care about the game of hockey,” Blais said. “Omaha is one of those places. Our administration, led by Trev Alberts and Mike Kemp, have been very supportive during my time as UNO head coach, and our fans are some of the best in college hockey.”

Vice Chancellor of Athletics Trev Alberts stated that Blais was a great leader and candidate to coach the hockey program in Omaha, and that he will be missed.

“Dean has been a remarkable leader for our hockey program during the last eight seasons, and he leaves it in a more prominent position nationally than when he began here in 2009,” Alberts said. “Milestones were a regular occurrence on his watch.”

UNO has yet to announce Blais’ replacement for the next season, but the search is already underway. Associate Athletic Director Mike Kemp said that the former coach will aid the program in finding the best suitable candidate.

“As we move forward, Dean will be working with us in the search of his successor,” Kemp said. “We recognize that we have a strong internal candidate, but also will be speaking with external candidates in an expedited process to fill the position. Given all that UNO has to offer and its place in the college hockey landscape, we expect considerable interest in our head coaching position.”

Blais was with the hockey program in eight of his 18 years of his head coaching career. In his eight seasons in Omaha, Blais finished with a record of 146-133-30 and led UNO to its first Frozen Four appearance in 2015.

After losing the third game in a best-of-three series with Western Michigan on Sunday, UNO finished the season with an overall record of 17-17-5.

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Photo Courtesy of omavs.com

Ray Koch
CONTRIBUTOR

After upsetting Western Michigan in the first game of a best-of-three series in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, the Broncos stormed back and won the next two games to take the series against the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks, ending their season.

The Mavericks’ Ortega-Vesel combination had one last goal combination for Omaha. In the first period, Austin Ortega slipped a pass to Tyler Vesel, who slapped it in the open net at 6:31 in the first period.

Tied 1-1 in OT, Michael Rebry of Western Michigan scored 34 seconds into the sudden death period, squandering hopes of UNO reaching it’s first ever NCHC quarterfinal. The goal was scored when Rebry shot a backhander between the legs of Mavs goalie Evan Weninger.

The Mavericks finished the season with a record of 17-17-5. Ian Brady, Austin Ortega, and Justin Parizek, all seniors, played their last game as a member of the UNO hockey team. Ortega finished his career fourth all-time in scoring at UNO with 129 points and second in goals, with 70. Brady finished his career third all-time for a defenseman with 77 points.

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