There’s been no lack of animosity surrounding UNO hockey over the last year or so. Some of it focused at me for my skepticism of Mike Gabinet, but mostly at former head coach Dean Blais. Much of the criticism of Blais focuses on the notion of “Swoontober”, a phenomenon where UNO’s hockey season fades away in the closing weeks of the season. Ill-prepared for the modern college hockey game, Blais’ coaching philosophies were at the core of UNO’s failure to make it to Minneapolis to play in the WCHA’s “Final Five” or NCHC’s “Frozen Faceoff” semifinals.
At least that’s the narrative.
And now that UNO hockey sits ever-so-slightly-above-.500 after New Years’ Day, some proclaim that “Swoontober is Over!” Yes, finally winning a game against (slumping) North Dakota at Baxter Arena proves that Gabinet was the answer.
Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Let’s look a little closer at the phenomenon known as “Swoontober” – specifically the schedule. You see, UNO is a member of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference which, quite frankly, is to college hockey what the SEC thinks they are to college football. Pretty damn good. How good? Each of the last three years, two of the four NCAA Frozen Four teams have been NCHC teams. UNO made it in 2015, North Dakota in 2015 and 2016, Denver in 2016 and 2017, and Minnesota-Duluth in 2017.
And it’s not just that the NCHC had two excellent teams; in 2016 and 2017, four NCHC teams earned bids to the 16 team NCAA tournament. In 2015, six of the eight teams made it. So one fact is blatantly clear: UNO’s conference schedule is about as tough as it gets.