This article is part of an ongoing series offering a robust look into the history and passion behind UNO’s hockey program: “An Omaha tradition like no other.” To read Part I, click here.
In a time where a young Omaha program was searching for an identity and something to rally behind, an idea was sparked from the mind of head coach Mike Kemp. A well-known story to Mav fans, the former Wisconsin assistant coach was hit with a fish while coaching a game at Alaska-Anchorage. It’s a moment that would lead to one of the longest running traditions of UNO hockey.
Designed to signify “fishing” the puck out of the net, out of a brainstorming session came another current staple at Baxter Arena: Greg McVey and his custom made “Mavboni.” A cart made with tires full of slime and spikes, the idea initially started as a gimmick amongst some friends at their tailgate. After being convinced by some of the group, McVey brought his creation to one of Coach Kemp’s radio shows and the rest is history.
“I’m out in the DJ’s Dugout parking lot early going back-and-forth across the parking lot doing wheelies, and Kemp shows up,” said McVey. “He starts laughing and goes ‘what the hell is this?’ I tell him it was for our tailgate and he’s scratching his head – I think you could just about see the wheels spinning in his head – with this huge grin on his face.
“He walks up and asks the manager if we can bring it in the bar and he ended up setting the microphone on it and did most of the show while sitting on it. After the show is over, he asks if I’d ever consider picking the fish up with it, and I’m thinking no way.”
“Long story short, I put 125 holes in each of those tires for the spikes and put the slime designed for fixing tire leaks around the inside of the tires. I pumped them up to 10 pounds, went in the house for the night, and the next morning I came out and they were still at 10 pounds–it had somehow worked. I called Coach, said let’s do it and I was picking the fish up the following Friday and Saturday against Ohio State.”
As a “big tradition guy,” McVey is happy to have played a small part, but he’s also just glad to see it still going all these years later.
“One of my big things is to keep it unique to Omaha and UNO,” said McVey. “I’ve had two different athletic directors offer to give me their card and pay me whatever I would want to build one for them, but that’s not what we want. Kids here get a kick out of it, and the crowd anticipates it, but all of this was an idea that fell together because of an idea in coach Kemps’ head–and somehow I made this goofy thing.”
The fish throwing duties have since been passed on from the original thrower, Jon Martin, as he says “he’s gotten too old for it.” Two friends, Kent Cisar and Tim Elofson, now man the duties. For Cisar, who can often be seen wearing his red helmet with ‘U’ ‘N’ ‘O’ pucks lining the top, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“You might not be a player on the team, but as a fan you feel like you’re part of something and connected to the program here in Omaha,” said Cisar. “I don’t know these players on the ice anymore, but when I was a student at UNO I could see Dave Noel-Bernier at a happy hour and he would know me just from being a hockey diehard, and we’d have a conversation as if we were lifelong best friends.
“I’ll never forget walking around as a student here after big wins, and I could high-five the chancellor after a hockey game. It’s those types of things where you feel connected, and I don’t think you can get that many other places. Winters sucked before UNO hockey, and it’s a special feeling every home Friday and Saturday night.”
As mentioned, the two split the duties of throwing the fish, which is all planned out with an email or a text earlier in the week. They have now been throwing off and on for over 10 years, and it’s something they take a lot of pride in.
“When Tim walks the fish around before the game, people want their picture with it, or want to know the story behind it, and it’s an honor to pass the tradition on,” said Cisar. “Nobody else does what we do in college hockey, and I think there’s this ownership of Omaha hockey.”
“Getting pictures taken with little kids is really cool,” Elofson added.“To see them smiling and the kick the parents get out of it, those are the things that make it worth it.”
As a former student, passing on the tradition of Maverick hockey is something Cisar said he is happy to do. He feels it helps create future fans filling the seats.
“Kids might not remember the final score of the game, but I guarantee you they’ll tell their friends they got to take a picture with the UNO hockey fish. That’s a little hook we have that nobody else does, and it’s those types of moments that help create future Mavericks.”
These are just two more of the many faces that you can spot around Baxter Arena. Take a look at section 112 on the east end of the ice and you’ll find a group of large blue trash cans that an “army” of bearded men have turned into drums.
From Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn,” to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” to chants throughout the game and even firing up the crowd in the lobby after a home win, this group is home to some of the rowdiest fans in the building – and they wouldn’t want it any other way.
Ryan Snyder, one of the ring leaders of The Red Army, attended his first game as a student in 2005. Fifteen years later, he recalls being kicked out of the student section for being “too loud,” which led him to the Qwest Center’s section 213 to see what the army was all about. Over the last decade, this passionate group of Maverick fans has only grown.
“When I first started we had one drum, and the people were in and out,” said Snyder. “Now, we’re such a passionate and tight-knit group, and we’re just happy to wear ‘Omaha’ across our chest. We try to be ambassadors for our sport, our school and for our city, and I think that represents everything this program tries to do on the ice, as well.”
Snyder is one of several members of the group that refer to one another as their “winter family,” and a game is an opportunity to come together as one.
“No matter how bad of a day I’m having, these guys don’t let it affect it and it’s in the past,” said one of the longest members of the group, Chuck Herring. “When I walk into this building, nothing else matters and we’re here for hockey. Honestly, it’s a stress reliever and it’s a chance for us all to come together and be Mavericks.”
“I sit at a computer desk all day at work,” said Snyder. “So to have the ability to come to a game, cheer, and scream – it’s just fun. No matter what’s going on in the game itself, we try to bring energy and noise, and it’s something we all take a lot of pride in.”
On the topic of diehards, look no further than section 216 for Jon and Bridget Brooks, the proud creators of MavPuck.com.
Season ticket holders from day one, the Brooks have attended 479 consecutive Maverick home games, a streak that dates back to the first season.
“We were seniors at UNO during the 1995-96 school year,” said Jon Brooks. “When they announced that they were going to start a hockey program, I sent Bridget over the day they started selling season tickets, and she waited in line. We had no idea how much they would cost, how many games there were or even where they were playing, but we were one of the first people to reserve seats.”
Their streak is something they take a lot of pride in, but they’re also just proud Maverick fans overall.
“We’ve built our entire life around this,” said Bridget Brooks. “We’ve missed weddings, planned funerals around hockey, just every facet of our lives is dedicated to UNO hockey.”
That’s not an understatement, as they even took their honeymoon to Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena for, you guessed it, UNO hockey.
“East Lansing in November is not particularly romantic, but we were going to see UNO hockey play, and I don’t think it could’ve been any better for either one of us.”
Whether they’ve been there since day one or attended their first games during the most recent Western Michigan home series, it’s the support of the Omaha community that has made this such a special place for current and former Mavericks to play. These die-hard fans are just a few of the many who have made an impact over the years.