The last time I went to a Skate With The Mavs event was December 2013 at the CenturyLink Center Omaha. I decided to go again this year with Bridget (and our nieces and nephews) because — for some odd reason — I hadn’t yet seen the University of Nebraska at Omaha Hockey team’s lockerroom at Baxter Arena (I did see it during the construction phase, when it was just cement and exposed beams, but the finished product has eluded me).
We like to take our nieces and nephews when UNO holds the event — an event that allows young fans a chance to skate with the hockey players, learn more about the program, and have a snack afterward.
The adults in attendance aren't allowed to skate, or go onto the ice. I can't ice skate anyway... and don't believe God meant for man to balance on a 1/8-inch metal blade... but I digress...
When we arrived at Baxter Arena on Jan. 28, we checked the kids in at the registration table, and got them wristbands. They had commemorative posters and fidget spinners on hand as giveaways for attendees.
Baxter Arena staff runs “Skate With The Mavs” in shifts — all participants get to skate with the team on the main ice sheet and tour the lockerroom.
We were in the group that skated first. Here is my youngest niece moving around the ice — her method is a cross between skating, running, and an arthritic 80-year-old hobbling along with a walker:
The good news is that Maverick Forward Tyler Vesel gave her some pointers, showing her how to "push off" with her skate:
As I said earlier, parents weren't allowed on the ice. Here is a pic of me, my wife Bridget, and my brother-in-law Neil (the guy with the stocking cap and bulging biceps) looking on in the stands:
After skating with the team for about 30 minutes, our crew set the skates aside and waited in line for a tour of the team locker room. UNO Captain Joel Messner led us on our journey into the cavernous regions underneath Baxter Arena.
It is a really nice setup for the team. In my humble opinion, this facility is superior to the team's previous locker rooms at the CenturyLink Center (2003-2015) and Civic Auditorium (1997-2003).
A new addition this season are signs featuring inspirational quotes designed to motivate and cement the objectives UNO Hockey Head Coach Mike Gabinet hopes to instill in the program going forward.
Gabinet is an incredibly positive individual. Being around him for any length of time shows why the players have nothing but praise for his hiring in 2017. As Bridget said afterwards, he "just makes you want to be a better person."
UNO Hockey Blue Line Club President Roger Humphries was sitting behind us at the hockey game on Jan. 27. He mentioned that the BLC donated the money for the new signage.
The team locker room includes a workout area (with bicycles and weights):
There is an area where the trainers can work on players, and a hot and a cold hot tub to help in the rehab of injuries:
And... there is an extensive "workshop" where the equipment manager can attend to all the wounded skates, helmets, gloves, and pads the players wear in the arena of battle:
I grabbed a selfie with Coach Gabinet. Bridget and I haven’t missed a home hockey game since the program began in 1997. It’s hard to believe Gabby — who used to be a defenseman for the Mavericks in the early 2000s — is old enough to be a head coach. His youthful appearance makes me feel old, and his physique makes me feel that I should retire the potato chips in favor of broccoli spears:
After the event, attendees were able to grab a dish of custard from Freddy’s and sprinkle on toppings:
Having been around since the UNO Hockey program’s inception, I believe that opportunities for fans to interact with the players and coaching staff are incredibly important — for both the players and the fans.
Not only do these moments give fans the chance to meet the team they loyally cheer on each season, they also give players the opportunity to get to know who they are playing for.
I just wish there were more opportunities for fans — of all ages — to participate in these sorts of events — events that add a flavor "beyond the game" that is integral in building a fanbase deep-rooted with the program.
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