Blackhawks prospects part of emerging Nebraska-Omaha hockey program

Blackhawks prospects part of emerging Nebraska-Omaha hockey program

When you think of college hockey programs, a few readily come to mind. North Dakota, the University of Minnesota and Boston University are among them.

And then there’s the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Wait, where?

“That’s what a lot of people say, but you’d be surprised,” said Omaha junior-to-be Jake Randolph, who was invited to the Blackhawks’ prospect camp this week. “Hockey’s been big in Omaha lately. We just got a new arena last year, and that took off, bringing all ages into hockey. It’s pretty cool what’s going on in Omaha.”

No, it doesn’t leap off the college hockey page like some of the others. But for Omaha players Randolph, Luc Snuggerud and Fredrik Olofsson, UNO is where they’ve been cutting their college hockey chops, and the school has gotten a taste of the national stage.

The Mavericks made their first NCAA Frozen Four appearance in 2015, losing to Providence, the eventual title winner, in the semifinals. While Omaha struggled last season, players still feel the program, which began in the late 1990s, is headed in the right direction.

So what made these guys choose Omaha?

“I wanted to be a part of a hockey team that was up and coming, and I knew if I went there I would have a big role right away. That was a big part of it,” Snuggerud said on Monday. “We have a good group of guys down there; we work hard. We’re more blue-collar than white-collar guys. I kind of like that mentality, just working hard every day and getting better.”

Olofsson said the team is drawing interest and big crowds. The Mavericks started playing at their new home, Baxter Arena, prior to last season, and coach Dean Blais said the team is fourth in the country in attendance behind Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

“It’s getting pretty big out there,” Olofsson said. “When you think Nebraska-Omaha you don’t think too much hockey, but we’re on the rise. We’re looking to have a good team this next year and I’ll be going into my sophomore season, so it’ll be fun.”

Speaking of coaches, the Mavericks have a great one in Blais, who coached the University of North Dakota to titles in 1997 and 2000.

“We want to win championships like we did in North Dakota. There’s a way to do that. Omaha’s a good sized town. We’re in a good drawing area, but the staff and the commitment to the players help us get better,” Blais said. “A lot want to get drafted and get better. We want to make sure they get their education first and then develop hockey skills.”

The Blackhawks prospects, including Snuggerud, have done that. Snuggerud, who the Blackhawks selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, said he’s improved his defense over his past two seasons in Omaha. Blais concurred.

“Luc’s a lot like Duncan Keith. Obviously Keith’s in a league by himself, but (Luc) likes to get the puck in,” Blais said. “He’s a good passer, but he’s getting more confident in the offensive zone. He didn’t do that much his first year. He needed more time to get stronger, more confident, and he’s developed that. He’ll have a heck of a year with us. He’ll get a chance to put that Blackhawks jersey on in the next couple of years.”

Omaha had a tough 2015-16 — the Mavericks started off well but faltered in the second half, finishing 18-17-1. But the team still likes the direction in which it’s going and is looking to build off the success of their 2015 Frozen Four appearance. Blais said the Mavericks return 20 players for the 2016-17 season. The University of Nebraska-Omaha doesn’t have a long hockey tradition, but it’s starting to make its mark.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back. We usually have a pretty young team, so it’ll be a good year. We have a good goalie coming in and some young players just picked up,” Snuggerud said. “We’re going to have a lot of talent, so hopefully it’ll all come together.”

Blackhawks release 2018-19 schedule


Blackhawks release 2018-19 schedule

Uncap those markers and start circling your calendars, Blackhawks fans. The 2018-19 season is officially out.

The Blackhawks will kick off their 91st campaign in franchise history with a road contest against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m. The home opener is set for Oct. 7, with an Original Six matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 6 p.m.

The Blackhawks have 14 back-to-back games, and the longest road trip of the season is three, which takes place five times over the course of the season; the longest homestand is four games, from Dec. 12-18.

The biggest highlight of the season will be the Original Six Winter Classic Showdown between the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1 at Notre Dame Stadium. It will be the sixth outdoor appearance for Chicago, and fourth in the Winter Classic.

The Blackhawks will also square off with the defending champion Washington Capitals on Nov. 21 at 6 p.m., and welcome them to Chicago on Jan. 20, set for NBC's Game of the Week at 11:30 a.m.

Here's a look at the full schedule:

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: 'We expect Corey to be back'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: 'We expect Corey to be back'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said that the team expects goalie Corey Crawford to be back next season around training camp. Bowman also mentioned that Crawford might speak about his status himself during the Blackhawks Convention.

“What I said at the end of the year was still the case now, which is we expect Corey to be back,” Bowman said in a Thursday afternoon conference call. “We don’t have any reason to think that’s not going to happen.”

According to Bowman, Blackhawks players, including Crawford, already have their eyes set on next season.

“At this point in the summer, all the players are preparing for next season,” Bowman said. “Corey’s in that same preparation mode.”

Crawford is nursing what has been labeled an upper-body injury by the team. The two-time Stanley Cup winner was put on the shelf for the rest of the season back in late December, and he has not seen the ice since he skated in a February practice.

“Nothing has changed,” Bowman said. “We expect him to be back and ready to go in training camp.”

The Blackhawks have chosen to keep any groundbreaking news with Crawford under wraps, which the organization has done with other player injuries in the past. Bowman spoke about his vagueness in this situation.

“We’ve never gone into specifics about injuries,” Bowman said. “I realize this probably gets more attention because he’s our starting goalie and he won the Stanley Cup.”

Fans will have to take a wait-and-see approach, because it is unlikely that there will be a significant update regarding Crawford’s health before the season gets closer to its start.

Last season, Crawford only appeared in 28 games, posting a record of 16-9 with 782 saves before going down for the rest of the year.