Today at 4pm CST on ESPN2, the UNO Mavericks will play Providence in the national semi-finals of the Frozen Four. For those of you that are newer to the sport, that is the NCAA's version of the Final Four in Division One hockey. The tournament started with 16 teams divided in four regions of four teams each. (More on the Mavericks' road below.) No, it's not 64 teams like NCAA hoops, but there are only 59 Division 1 hockey teams vs. 300+ in basketball.
"Team of destiny" is an overused term. Most team of destiny stories die off in the Sweet Sixteen, the regional final or wherever else they decide to wake up from nice little runs that excite people for awhile. Sometimes, though, fate steps in repeatedly and gives destiny a nudge toward circumstances that place the odds a little more in its favor.
Because of something that happened 27 years ago in a different sport, I am abandoning my all-sports policy of refusing to get my hopes up no matter what (1). As a matter of fact, I'm calling it right now:
The UNO Mavericks are going to win the National Championship
Now don't go hiring gypsies or Haitian voodoo women to unhex the curse you think I've just placed on Omaha's team. There's a perfectly logical reason for this conclusion.
The 1987-88 Kansas Jayhawks.
Yes, I'm serious. Follow along and remember: 59 hockey teams, 300+ hoops teams. (Maybe less in '88 but not by many.)
Anyway, travel back to '88 with me. Going into the NCAA tournament, Kansas had been seen as a solid but unspectacular team that finished 3rd in the Big 8 and unranked at season's end. Husker fans might remember a game in Lincoln in late January in which a late dribble off Danny Manning's leg led to a Beau Reid jumper at the buzzer (alliteration, bitches) to defeat the Jayhawks 70-68. Kansas had to go to Lincoln, NE, for the opening rounds where they drew #18 Xavier and what was assumed to be hostile crowd. Then fate started knocking all the big hurdles out of KU's way and the fun began.
Round 1 - A Xavier player tells newspapers that he thinks Lincoln is a frozen parking lot with a couple 7-11's. Instant home court advantage. W85-72
Round 2 - #14 NC State with 5 NBA draft picks in Chris Corchiani, Rodney Monroe, Vinny Del Negro, Chucky Brown & Charles Shackleford is upset in Round 1 by unranked mid-major, Murray St. KU survives 61-58
Sweet 16 - A hippie named Barry Goheen goes lights out from three point range & Vanderbilt upsets #8 Pitt for the Jayhawks. Vandy is done after that. W77-64
Elite 8 - Kansas St. takes out #3 Purdue in the round of 16. KU knows K-State. W71-58
Final 4 - A very tough Duke team with Danny Ferry & Quin Snyder but KU is feeling the mojo by now. W66-59
Finals - #4 Oklahoma with Stacey King, Harvey Grant & Mookie Blaylock. But it's a team they've played tough twice & know they can hang with. Billy Tubbs makes zero subs in a run & gun 50-50 1st half. Pant pant. W83-79. National Champs.
OK, hockey fans - if you survived the basketball talk, take a look at how the bracket has fallen into place for the Mavs:
Round 1 - UNO draws Harvard who finished the season hot but finished 6th in the regular season in a so-so ECAC. Considering previous 1st round games for the Mavs included #1 Boston U and the Michigan screw job, this is a vacation by comparison. W4-1
Round 2 - It was a foregone conclusion that beating Harvard would net the Mavs a match-up with #1 national seed Minnesota St and former Lancers Head & UNO Asst Coach Mike Hastings. The only problem was that #38 (#38!!!) RIT (2) decided they weren't done yet. A gritty effort and controversial call netted a monstrous upset for the Tigers and another beneficial match-up for UNO. W4-0
(Now we enter speculation territory)
Frozen 4 - Regionals are seeded one through four. Providence ranked #15 nationally was a 4-seed and knocked off UNO conference mates Miami-Ohio and Denver ranked #4 & #5 respectively. Line those three teams up and ask yourself honestly which which one scares you least. No disrespect to the Friars, but the goofy selection system let them as #4 seed play their regional on home ice. Bad for Miami & Denver. Good for the Mavericks.
National Finals - Okay, if Boston defeats North Dakota, the all bets are off because playing the #3 team in the country in their hometown is a tall order even if the fact that their head coach David Quinn being a former UNO assistant should provide some sort of weird Maverick Mojo.
However, since I'm leaving this all to fate, I say that North Dakota will take BU down giving the Mavs a title game against the #2
Fighting Sioux (3). Why do we prefer the #2 team over the #3 team? Well, besides not playing #3 on what amounts to their home ice, I mean.
Simple - much like KU-Sooners, there is familiarity in this match-up. And unlike that one, UNO has split in four tries against UND. In other words, there will be no intimidation. That's a game they know can win. And they've got a coach who's won two of these games already.
Brace yourselves - this is going to happen.
A Frozen Four Layman's Preview (No stats, analysis or any of that crap. You'll be drinking, I'll keep it simple.)
Why They'll Win: They won't. Please.
Why They'll Lose: They're standing on the tracks and the Destiny Train is coming through.
Why We Like Them: The name Providence sounds spiritual and important. Friars are sort of like monks and in the movies, monks know karate and can beat the hell out disrespectful types or foreign invaders with sticks. Also, low seeds advancing are always cool.
Why We Hate Them: See "Why They'll Lose". Just fly off the handle the 1st time one of them shoves a Mav after a whistle and roll with it. The Galactic Emperor would let the hate flow through him and so should you.
Why They'll Win: They were a dominant team in Hockey East and have the kind of tradition where they expect to win when they get this far. Oh yeah, they're playing in their home town.
Why They'll Lose: That city has won enough shit over the last 15 years and acted like jackwagons doing it. Karma? Meet destiny.
Why We Like Them: Hey, Quinn is a former Mav coach. OK, that's all I've got.
Why We Hate Them: A few minutes chatting up a Boston fan of any local sports team should answer that for you.
Why They'll Win: Because that's what they do. A lot.
Why They'll Lose: Because UNO Head Coach, Dean Blais, has their number much of the time. Might have something to do with coaching them to two national titles himself. And, yeah, the destiny thing. It's bigger than all of us.
Why We Like Them: (Still thinking...)
Why We Hate Them: They're hockey's version of Notre Dame football and North Carolina basketball. There is no scale large enough to measure just how entitled they feel they are to victory in these games as well as any close and controversial calls that will make that happen.
Your UNO Mavericks
Why They'll Win: Because it is so written. And Ryan Massa is a wall in net. And 18 underclassmen are too young and stupid to know this supposed to be incredible pressure. Because Dom Zombo is gutting it out. Because Jake Guentzel and Jake Randolph are going to find ways to find the back of the net. Because if Austin Ortega scores, it's a game winner. Because Brian Cooper will put the defense on his back. Because someone from whom we least expect it will step up. Because.
Why They'll Lose: They won't
Why We Like Them: Good god, how can you not? Do you hate puppies, too? Well, do you???
Why We Hate Them: Because we're the weird Goth kids from South Park and life just sucks? C'mon, there really is no reason.
So there you have it. Come in early, call in sick, induce vomiting in a trash can at lunch in front of the boss, whatever it takes. Face off is 4PM.
(1) This policy is completely ineffective BTW. Completely. But it does have the added advantage of allowing me to not enjoy the pre-game as much. I hate sports. OK, no I don't.
(2) - Bonus points for telling us what RIT stands for without Google. Honor system applies.
(3) - Google "North Dakota nickname " if you enjoy legal battles and NCAA controversies and rich alumni throwing their weight around.