UNO opens it's new arena on October 23rd, against Air Force, and will likely be playing in front of a sell-out crowd of 7,800 every home date next season (well, there IS that pesky Trinity Western exhibition game on January 2nd that may very well be the outlier game) and this will likely be in an atmosphere very reminiscent of the old Omaha Civic Auditorium, where UNO played (and sold old out every one of) the first 131 games games of the program's existence in this 8,314 seat venue, about to meet the wrecking ball this summer.
Who does UNO lose? Senior F James Polk, F Kyle Mountain, F Dominic Zombo, D Brian O'Rourke, and G Ryan Massa. 5 guys.
The only two players that merit any loss of sleep at all are Massa and Zombo. The other 3 guys were dead wood.
Polk, career -20 and 14 total points in 4 seasons. Mountain, a senior transfer from Vermont (where he NEVER saw the ice in his last (junior--3rd) season with the Catamounts, finished the season at UNO at -8 and no points and only played in 17 games. O'Rourke, career +2 and 13 total points in 4 years at UNO. These guys will not be missed in the W-L column. In fact, these 3 guys were some of the issues this season's team had.
Zombo had his worst season since his freshman year, albeit injury plagued, and managed only 14 points in 29 games after getting 69 during the past two seasons, total.
Then, there is Ryan Massa, who, if not for the foolish burning of his redshirt two seasons ago would be returning for a senior campaign, where, by his very presence alone, with what we have coming back and coming in, would have likely gotten UNO a top 5 pre-season poll spot instead of the top 10 spot I believe they will still get.
Who is showing up? That is a question with some answers that warm the heart.
1. RW Steve Spinner, current Omaha Lancer (USHL), one of the runner's up to the 13'-14' "Mr. Minnesota Hockey Award" that was won by current UNO forward Avery Peterson. Closest friend is current UNO Defenseman Luc Snuggerud, who he has known since they were both little boys and attended high school with, who was himself another finalist for the award that season. Spinner has 42 points in 56 games for the Lancers this season, is a 6th round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, and has won USHL "Player of the Week" honors twice this season in the USHL, both since the beginning of the new year.
2. D Phil Beaulieu, currently of the Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL), another of the runner's up to the 13'-14' "Mr. Minnesota Hockey Award" that was won by current UNO forward Avery Peterson. He has 29 points in 60 games in Waterloo this season, playing on a Waterloo team that did not make the USHL playoffs.
3. LW Fredrik Olofsson, currently of the Chicago Steel (USHL) where he has 57 points in 54 games, played on a team that also did not make the playoffs (and, where he had only 12 penalty minutes), and is a 4th round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is also a two-time winner of USHL "Player of the Week" honors this season. He is currently the league's 10th leading scorer.
4. D Jack McNeely, current member of the Tri-Cities Storm (USHL) where he is playing out his season after ending his high school hockey career this year at Lakeville North High in the Twin Cities where he had 21 points in 25 games played and helped his team to the Class AA Minnesota High School State Hockey Championship, which is the top level of high school hockey in Minnesota. He's being touted as a 2nd or 3rd round NHL draft pick.
5. F Ryan Galt, current member of the Bloomington Thunder (USHL), another team that did not make the USHL postseason, where Galt had 32 points in 57 games. Galt is Omaha born and raised and is a self-admitted fan of the Omaha Lancers and is utterly stoked to play in his home town and makes no bones about that.
6. F Mason Morelli, current member of the Fargo Force, another team that did not make the USHL playoffs, where Morelli had 23 points in 56 games played.
7. F Riley Alferd, current member of the Penticton Vees (BCHL), where he has 46 points in 56 games, playing on a team that is currently 44-9-3.
8. D Jalen Schulz, current member of the Tri-City Storm (USHL), where he has 8 points in 56 games (9 last year in 57 games on the same team) on a team that missed winning the Western Conference of the USHL by a single point. Schulz recruitment is, frankly, something of a head-scratcher. 231 penalty minutes in 113 games for the Storm. Can you say, "enforcer"? He served a 3 game suspension by the USHL this season. He and current UNO D Grant Gallo are going to be real pals. They can take turns beating up other team's stars and sitting in the penalty box. These two guys will probably spend their pregames listening to Michael Jackson's "Gotta be startin' somethin'" before every game.
FYI, current Omaha Lancers (USHL) goalie Kris Oldham, Lincoln Stars (USHL) defenseman Ryan Jones, and Sioux City Roughrider (USHL) Zach Court are all '16-'17 UNO commits.
I'm a little shocked that Oldham isn't somebody they want here next season. He's only 17, though, but is rated the 29th ranked goalie prospect by the NHL of ALL North American goalies (and has been the USHL "Goalie-of-the-Week" 3 times this season on a playoff team in a 16 team league). He will be a draft pick upon arrival and he is perhaps somebody we could use, now. I can't imagine Kirk Thompson being the goalie next season here, despite how "hot" my wife finds him, as his juniors numbers and his numbers with UNO over two seasons, as well, are nothing to write home about. In fact these numbers ALL utterly stink, which makes me wonder why we recruited this guy in the first place.
I would expect Brock Crossthwaite to win the goalie job next season since he has the much better pedigree.
This makes for 20 returning underclassmen and 8 newcomers. A 28 man roster? I think some guys may be disappearing before the start of next season.
Spinner, Beaulieu, Olofsson, and McNeely are all very likely upgrades from anybody that was lost (discounting goalie), at least, long term, except for maybe Zombo.
That leaves the one giant burning question that is going to seal UNO's fate next season. That is, who is going to be in goal and just how good does he have to be? I think that even with "serviceable" goaltending, UNO is a tourney team again next season and if whoever is between the pipes can author up a season like, say, something that is better than or equal to Dan Ellis' now 2nd place, all time, in UNO history, save percentage number in '01-'02 and/or Jared Kaufman's now 2nd all time in team history GAA in '08-'09, then UNO has a legitimate title shot, again.
Understand that Massa broke these team records on a level that Gretzky broke NHL records, mind you.
Nobody is going to get close to Massa's numbers, probably, in what is left of my lifetime, in either of these categories. However, I believe the team will be improved enough just from the level of talent added, and just plain experience, that they can still win a title with goaltending that is not on the level of what Massa supplied this season.
Throw all this in along with the excitement of playing in our new arena, that is going to be filled with 7,800 screaming fans that are also all thinking "Frozen Four, again", every single night, and this upcoming season could could end up being just as special as this one was.
Consider, too, that UNO is led by a a coach that authored up one of the biggest accomplishments of his storied career this season. Something he's been asked about in the local press and is something he has avoided addressing as he seems to not want parallels to be be drawn to this situation and to his previous tenure at North Dakota.
I, for one, can't wait for next season to start. Overall, on paper, this looks like it will be the best team that UNO has ever sent out onto the ice.
Disclaimer. Anything I have said here about next season is subject to change if UNO has any pro defections.