By Patrick Cooley – Sports Editor
As No. 8 North Dakota with its 7 NCAA titles and busloads of fans descends upon the Qwest Center this weekend, “Omaha’s Team” sits on the brink of something big.
There are many reasons this series could be considered the biggest in program history. At 8-1-1 the Mavs are off to their best start ever. Their No. 4 national ranking is the highest in program history and what we’ve seen so far from these over-achievers makes you believe that Dean Blais’ 2010-2011 Mavs may be the best team in program history.
The time is ripe for a big-time showdown at the Qwest.
Into this perfect storm walks the Fighting Sioux, a perennial powerhouse in the world of college hockey, whose 14 WCHA titles make them one of the kings of UNO’s new league.
This is an enormous opportunity for the UNO program not only to gain conference points but also to gain some momentum and create some buzz. The weekend series against the best the WCHA has to offer is a chance to draw in new fans. The Mavs have built up a strong following over the years, but with a talented team, a top-notch coach and tons of hype, UNO hockey could really take off this year.
People love to watch a winner and they love to be entertained. It’s what Minor League baseball has been doing for years. Half the battle with getting fans in the seats is promoting a product that is buzzing and tons of fun (think Creighton basketball). The atmosphere will come with a boisterous new arena on the docket, but the wins have to follow as well.
The Mavs have proven they can hold up their end of the bargain on the ice, but a few exciting games this weekend in front of a packed Qwest Center house would make Omaha take notice and have Trev Alberts grinning from ear to ear.
Hockey is UNO’s bread and butter. It makes the school unique. Where UNO can’t compete for fans in football or basketball, it can in hockey. No other team in the state can offer what UNO can in a fast-paced, high-scoring game with plenty of hits and excitement at price that won’t bankrupt a family. The Mavs have to take advantage of opportunities like the one coming up this weekend, and the way things are going it seems they just might.
– UNO got a bad-break when ABC decided to show the Nebraska-Texas A&M game in Saturday night primetime. The 7:00 p.m. game coincides with the Mavs match-up against North Dakota, which is set for 7:37 p.m. Expect the UNO faithful to be in attendance, but the typical sports fan who otherwise might consider attending will be at home watching the Huskers in ‘Aggie-Land’.
– Nebraska is sitting nicely amongst one-loss teams in the BCS. If they win, the Huskers will have beaten a top-20 Texas A&M team and what will be a top-10 Oklahoma/Oklahoma State team in the Big XII Championship game. This will be enough to keep them ahead of Stanford, Wisconsin and Ohio State. It may also be enough to put them ahead of a potential one-loss LSU team, who has already been beaten out by Auburn for a spot in the SEC Championship game. Throw in a couple potential upsets (Boise State at Nevada, Auburn at Alabama and Oregon vs. Arizona) and things get interesting. Stay tuned.
– Here’s to UNO offensive linemen Dennis Bergland and Harrison Lingenfelter. The seniors were selected to the All-MIAA First Team, released this week. Bergland was a unanimous selection and Lingenfelter was a repeat selection from last year. The two helped the Mavs rack up 2,229 yards rushing on the season, which was good for second in the MIAA. They will be missed.
– Here’s your crazy stat of the day: Coach Derrin Hansen’s UNO men’s basketball team played in front of 14,759 fans against No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 8. The Mavs then played five days later in front of a dismal 473 fans against Division-III Nebraska Wesleyan.
– It’s always good to see a senior go out on top and that’s exactly what senior goalkeeper Lauren Fox did for Coach Klosterman’s UNO women’s soccer team. Fox was named to the All-MIAA Second Team for her efforts this year. The Beatrice, Neb. native finished her senior campaign with 80 saves and four shutouts in nearly 1,500 minutes of play. The Mavs graduate only two seniors this year, so expect big things out of them next season.
– Lock of the Week: No. 20 USC (-3) at Oregon State. The Beavers (4-5, 3-3) are coming off an awful 31-14 home loss to Pac-10 cellar-dweller Washington State (2-9, 1-7), so why would you expect them to do any better against USC? The Beavers have games against No. 6 Stanford and No. 1 Oregon still ahead, so there’s no reason for an extra-effort performance this week against USC. I like the Trojans by at least two touchdowns.
– Saturday’s football lineup includes two outdoor games of atypical fashion. Notre Dame takes on Army at Yankee Stadium and Illinois and Northwestern square off at Wrigley Field. All four schools could use a pick-me up, so scheduling these games in these venues makes sense. They are good for recruiting, put more fans in the stands than normally would be and create a buzz. Makes you think UNO football should have played a game at Rosenblatt.