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'This team was built to play with the big boys': UNO hockey earns NCAA tournament bid
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'This team was built to play with the big boys': UNO hockey earns NCAA tournament bid

The UNO hockey team found out Sunday night that it hasn’t been practicing in vain.

The Mavericks are one of 16 teams to earn a regional bid to the NCAA postseason tournament. The bracket announcement was televised on ESPNU.

UNO was on the tourney bubble after losing in the first round of the NCHC tournament March 13 against Denver. Coach Mike Gabinet still had his team practicing last week in hopes of hearing good news Sunday.

The Mavs will be part of the Loveland (Colorado) Regional. UNO is the fourth seed and will play top seed Minnesota on Saturday at 8 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.

Dave Starman, a commentator on ESPNU’s selection show, said he wasn’t surprised that UNO secured a bid.

“I said from five games into the season that this team was built to play with the big boys,” he said. “Mike Gabinet and his group have done a wonderful job.”

Starman also called the Mavs’ first-round matchup against the Gophers “very intriguing.”

The other two teams in that regional, No. 2 seed Minnesota State and No. 3 seed Quinnipiac, will play Saturday at 3 p.m.

The two winners will play Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

This will be the fourth NCAA tournament appearance for UNO. The Mavs previously qualified in 2006, 2011 and 2015.

UNO reached the tourney semifinals, known as the Frozen Four, in 2015.

The Mavs went 14-9-1 during the regular season and finished fourth in the eight-team NCHC. UNO was predicted to finish sixth in the preseason.

Gabinet’s squad surrendered three third-period goals in its 5-4 NCHC playoff loss to Denver. But the Mavs did enough during the regular season, including two wins over top-ranked North Dakota, to net the NCAA bid.

UNO also might have been the beneficiary of a bad break for the St. Lawrence hockey program. That team would have been in the playoff field but backed out Sunday when head coach Brent Brekke tested positive for COVID-19.

UNO associate athletic director Mike Kemp, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said on the selection show that it was unfortunate.

“It’s a sad situation,” he said. “We were alerted to the problem, and it came down to the bottom two (bubble) teams, and Notre Dame and Omaha benefited from it.”

The Fighting Irish also made the tourney.

Kemp said the committee’s criteria included strength of schedule, win-loss record and a team’s record against other teams under consideration.

Kemp said the process was “extremely” stressful this year.

“It was a long, arduous task,” he said. “But the committee took the time and did the research.”

Four teams from the NCHC — UNO, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth — reached the tournament. The Fighting Hawks are the overall No. 1 seed.

The four regional champions will advance to the Frozen Four, which begins April 8 in Pittsburgh.

The schedule

Fargo (North Dakota) Regional

Friday: No. 2 seed Minnesota Duluth (14-10-2) vs. No. 3 Michigan (15-10-1), 3 p.m. (ESPNU); No. 1 North Dakota (21-5-1) vs. No. 4 American International (15-3-0), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN3)

Saturday: Final, 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Bridgeport (Connecticut) Regional

Friday: No. 1 seed Wisconsin (20-9-1) vs. No. 4 Bemidji State (15-9-3), noon (ESPN2); No. 2 Massachusetts (16-5-4) vs. No. 3 Lake Superior State (19-6-3), 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Saturday: Final, 3 p.m. (ESPNU)

Loveland (Colorado) Regional

Saturday: No. 2 seed Minnesota State (20-4-1) vs. No. 3 Quinnipiac (17-7-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3); No. 1 Minnesota (23-6-0) vs. No. 4 UNO (14-10-1), 9 p.m. (ESPNU)

Sunday: Final, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Albany (New York) Regional

Saturday: No. 1 seed Boston College (17-5-1) vs. No. 4 Notre Dame (14-13-2), noon (ESPNews); No. 2 St. Cloud State (17-10-0) vs. No 3 Boston University (10-4-1), 5:30 p.m. (ESPNews)

Sunday: Final, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

A brief look at UNO hockey since 2010

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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