October 16, 2006

To Kill a Program - The UNO Hockey Story

For those of you from outside the Omaha area, I apologize for the following post. I think you'll quickly find that you most likely won't know what I'm talking about, and probably don't even care...so for that I will be cool with you moving on with your day, and visiting the blog tomorrow. I appreciate your patience and understanding. Unfortunately, this post has to be written.

For the rest of you....

As many of you know, I am a big hockey fan and have been since the University of Nebraska at Omaha decided to begin a Division One hockey team. (For those of you out of town, this is NOT...repeat NOT the Huskers. This is their little brother in Omaha who are not called the "Huskers", nor do they have a hick with a big ol shit-eatin grin on his face for a mascot. Just wanted to make that clear.)

In 1997, Omaha was electric with Maverick hockey fever. All 8,314 seats were sold out for the entire season. Even scalped tickets for games against UMass were hard to come by. The building was loud. The place was electric. The team was lousy, but it really didn't matter. Omaha finally had a team that the entire city could back. (Remember, this was back when Creighton students still didn't realize they had a basketball team). Just a couple of years after the Mavericks hit the ice, the team found themselves in the playoffs. After a deafening win over Bowling Green, the team was off to Detroit, where they ultimately finished runner up in the CCHA playoffs to mighty Michigan State. At that time, there was no limit to what the team could do. The future was as bright as the sun, as the team continued to move forward.

By 2002, the team was riding two 20+ win seasons, as they prepared to move into their new home at the Qwest Center Omaha. However, when the building opened, the team floundered. The Mavs went 8-26-5 in their first season. Luckily, head coach Mike Kemp righted the ship somewhat and steadied the team as they finished above .500 the following two years, including the team's first ever Hobbey Baker candidate (Scott Parse) and the team's first ever NCAA tourney birth. It seems that UNO fans should be on top of the world.

Or not.

Entering their 10th season, interest in UNO hockey has faded to charcoal black. Season tickets in the new building have fallen from 8,314 to just over 3,000 in only a few years. In the summer of 2006, UNO was rocked by an administration scandal that saw the dismissal of both the chancellor and her second in command, all for forging receipts and mismanagement of booster money respectively. UNO's advertising budget continued to be the financial equivalent of the Millard South Prom, with minimal advertising for it's most important sport. (Unless you count a few bus stops, which as we all know is right up there with a 30 second spot at the Super Bowl)

But buildings, conferences and players aren't the only thing that have changed. Once a well oiled poster child for college hockey fans, UNO's fan base has splintered into a collection of cliques and type-A personalities. Gone are the days where fans in mass would thunder down "U..N..O" onto opposing goalies. In the rearview mirror are the nights where thousands of hockey fans would act as a 7th man...willing a sometimes (at best) mediocre hockey team to close wins.

Today, UNO hockey is a shell of it's former self. The team boasts one of, if not the most exciting player in college hockey in Parse. The team returns nearly all of their scoring power (minus winger Bill Thomas, who bolted for the NHL and Wayne Gretzky. Still looking for a person who could blame him), yet the interest rival that of a Doodlebops Holiday Special. Stands are 1/2 as full as they were just five years ago. Noise levels match those of the Papillion Library during Sunday hours. And yet to this day, not a hockey-specific billboard sees the light of day in this town.

Most disappointing of all are UNO fans themsevles. Even those who have stuck around the entire ten years find themselves bickering within. Although there is no dobut each hard-core fan loves and supports his/her team...it's evident that cliques and factions have splintered a once great fan base. Of course, many or all of them will deny it. But rest assured, to those in the middle, the difference is night and day, and it's not because the lights at the old Civic sucked.

Let me spell it out for you all. I'm a fan. I'm never going to stop going to games because I enjoy the sport, I enjoy the Qwest Center, and I enjoy following the program. But the scandals, the turmoil and the bickering have made it so difficult to follow this team, that have to remind myself the day before that a hockey weekend is near. Maybe I'm a shitty fan? Maybe I'm part of the problem because I'm not willing to do my part to help the team. Perhaps I should lend a hand and try and fix the problems that plague the program? Perhaps I should just be like the rest of the city, and just buy Creighton basketball season tickets so I can watch a slightly above average mid-major team play Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Illinois State week in and week out.

To be honest, I'm actually sad that I'm paying less attention to UNO hockey than in previous years. In reality, there is no real reason to do so. The team is as talented as it's ever been. The Qwest is just as beautiful as any NHL rink in the land. So why is it getting so hard to care?

When the best you can hope for is 3rd fiddle in a one horse town (Huskerville population 800,000), you better have all your ducks in a row. The University of Nebraska at Omaha and their leaders have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to make me want to keep going to hockey games. This is problem number one. If you don't understand how to keep your primary fans happy...how the hell do you expect to win over casual fans who are just looking for something to do on a Friady night. How come when I call in to see where the status of my season tickets is at, the ticket office makes it seem like they're doing me a favor? WHY in the HELL does a Division One program run their primary money-maker like an NAIA Debate team? WHY is it so hard to reach out to the community?

It's so hard, because they don't know any better. It's hard because for years, they've given no effort. It's hard because corruption rotted the program from the top. It's so hard, because the very people who live and work in the heart of Omaha, can't figure out their own sports community.

I'm a fan of UNO Hockey. I will always be a fan of UNO hockey. But until somebody...somewhere...in some way shape or form makes some changes pretty damn quick, my will to follow with passion the team I've watched since it's birth will die a slow and painful death. It's already on bleeding to death, and the paramedics seem nowhere to be found.

See ya'all at the Qwest this weekend....Plenty of seats still available.



Anonymous Obsessed Husker Fan said...

...yawn... sorry AJ, but no one really care about UNO hockey. Why dont you become a fan of a winning team with an actual fanbase, like say, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, since you live here and all. Anyways, I come here to read your rants about Big Red and our fans, not some shitty hockey team that no one even knows exists. I guess I've come to expect more of you. I expect angry hate-filled rants that amuse me, not because I agree with you, but because you are so delusional its funny! Im a daily reader of this blog and have actually become a big fan of your writing. I know you enjoy college hockey, and Husker football season isnt going exactly as you liked, but AJ, my man, lets get with the program. Thanks!

10:39 PM  
Blogger Husker Mike said...

The reports of the death of the UNO Maverick hockey program are premature. The corruption and mismanagent by the Belckis & Buckhead and Danenhauer will take years to repair. Expecting the damage to get reversed immediately simply isn't realistic.

The key is to look forward, not back. Yes, attendance is down from 5 years ago. But season ticket sales were up 10% this season from last.

We've got a lot to look forward to this season. Scott Parse is a talent we may not see the likes of again. Some of these young freshmen look pretty exciting: Koehler, Dupont, Agosta. This could be a memorable year.

Don't throw in the towel just yet, AJ. The Frozen Four is in St. Louis this year, where they brew Amber Bock...

11:01 PM  
Blogger AJ said...

OHF...I know you think I write this whole thing for you...but a pretty good chunk of readers here are friends and fans of UNO hockey.

So...for one day on a Tuesday...I think you can live with it.

Your football team still sucks, your players still beat women, your National titles still weren't earned and your fans are still inbread hicks.

Nothing has changed.


PS - Thanks Mike appreciate the thoughts.

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Obsessed Husker Fan said...

ahhh... Thats the AJ I know! Thanks for that, I thought I had lost you for a bit. Glad to know everything is back to normal!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Ahhh, frosty cold Amber Bock.

I disagree with you on this one, AJ. Why would I drive all the way to Omaha from St. Louis? Certainly not for a shucker game. Only for the glorious spectacle that is UNO hockey. I'm looking forward to hearing the fite song in the lobby after a couple of victories this weekend, a great tailgate party on Saturday, watching Parse/Niki et al score a couple of highlight reel goals, and sharing a certain AB product with you. Email me and we'll get together or I'll look for you on Friday, my friend.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly agree with your comments about the fan clique. I was recently booted from mavpuck.com after I posted on the message boards that it is time to play some different songs during play stopage. Seems like certain people don't want the status quo messed with. Jeff

7:14 PM  

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