BOSTON — As the Omaha Mavericks make their first Frozen Four appearance, they have plenty of support from the founding days of the program.
Mike Kemp served as Omaha’s first coach, spending 12 years behind the bench before he became an associate athletic director at UNO in 2009. Kemp is part of the team’s official travel party, along with former athletic director Don Leahy, who is 85 years old and officially retired as athletic director emeritus.
“Don Leahy made the decision to start our hockey program,” said Kemp. Leahy served as AD at UNO twice, from 1974 to 1985 and then again from 1995 to 1997.
In addition to the two men who helped build the program from on the administration’s side, several former players will be in Boston this weekend. There’s Christian Graham, who transferred from Lake Superior State to UNO to serve as an alternate captain for the Mavericks in their first two seasons (1997-1999).
Then there’s Rob Facca — whom Kemp called UNO’s “most enthusiastic ambassador” — a teammate of Graham’s who went on to coach at Omaha (2005-07). Former forwards David Brisson (1999-2003) and Andrew Wong (2000-04) are also in the mix.
“The most interesting one is Mike Gabinet,” said Kemp, “who played from 2000 to 2004, and he’s gone on to become the associate head coach at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He’s coming down from Edmonton for the games, and of course they beat us 4-0 in the season-opening exhibition game this year in Omaha, so he’s going to have his chest pumped out.”
Also making the trip with the team is someone who’s been with the Mavericks since the beginning, equipment manager Mark Pane. “He’s back there sharpening skates,” said Kemp. “He’s been around for the entire time with the program.”
With this first Frozen Four appearance for the Mavericks, there is some talk of the program’s emergence in the world of college hockey, but Kemp said that success is relative.
“Certainly moving from the CCHA to the WCHA to the NCHC, there’s been kind of continued change, and it’s kind of the fresh change,” said Kemp. “Then again, for these players particularly, it is new for them. Austin Ortega’s a sophomore. He’s in his second year of UNO hockey history. You go back to some of the alumni who will be here in attendance this weekend, they have a perspective of it differently who’ve not been on the scene since Day 1.”