No one knows better than Michigan forward Jed Ortmeyer about what the atmosphere will be like in Omaha this weekend.
“It”s going to be crazy in there,” said Ortmeyer about returning to his hometown. “They”re going to come out and play like it”s the Stanley Cup. It”s going to be a really tough place to play.”
But Jed”s homecoming will remain off the ice, as he has been hampered by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that he suffered in the game against Notre Dame nine days ago. While it is an apparent season-ending injury, Ortmeyer said he plans to get a second opinion from a trusted family doctor in Omaha before making his final decision whether to finish the season before having surgery, or officially hang up his skates for the year.
“I”m kind of hoping but I don”t think it”s really set in yet that I can”t play the rest of the year,” Ortmeyer said. “I”m still in the shock stage I think.”
Although Ortmeyer feels no pain or swelling and has full movement in his leg, the possible risks of “having problems the rest of his life,” as he said, stick in his mind.
“It kind of scares me a little bit. (I”ve) just got to weigh my options,” he added.
Ortmeyer will instead have to watch the Wolverines battle in their first-ever game at Nebraska-Omaha, a team which, in its fourth year in existence as a hockey program, has grown by leaps and bounds.
Starting literally from scratch, the Mavericks consisted of mostly walk-ons and players who could only play at Division II or Division III schools.
We were “just a bunch of guys who came together,” said senior captain Jason Cupp, a member of the Mavericks” first class. “Most of us had nowhere else to go kind of like the “Bad News Bears.”
Cupp played three years in the USHL before a knee injury ruined his scholarship chances with other schools, but Nebraska-Omaha kept its arms wide open and he hasn”t regretted it since.
“The fan support here has been unbelievable,” Cupp said. There”s “not as many students, but the students are still a big part of it. Young and old all have fun here, with the kids coming over to ask for autographs all the time it”s definitely a fun experience.”
Nebraska-Omaha players admit that their fans don”t know as much about the game of hockey as many other more-established followings in the CCHA, but the dedicated crowd that packs in both the college and junior league games impresses everyone.
“If you were at a junior game in Nebraska you”d think it was semi-pro hockey,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, who remembers many of the farm teams that existed in Omaha when he played in the NHL. “In Omaha they fill the building and hoot and holler. They fill it every night and the enthusiasm is unbelievable.”
Nearly 6,000 fans pack the arena for Omaha Lancers games, which is the junior team that Ortmeyer played for a few years ago and the passion for hockey has been contagious for the newly-formed Mavericks.
The “semi-pro or college feel” has been a major factor in the Mavericks” success thus far, as they hold a 11-2-1 record in the friendly confines of Civic Arena.
A little spice is added to the atmosphere as alcohol is served inside Nebraska-Omaha”s home arena, something that is not common in college hockey atmospheres.
“Alcohol is kind of different to other campuses,” Cupp said. “It helps the atmosphere a bit and lets people get loose.”
While the fans will be enjoying themselves, the Mavericks know what they”re up against a hungry Michigan team that is looking for vindication from last year”s embarrassing loss in the CCHA playoffs.
“Actually, I”m a little bit scared,” senior Dave Noel-Bernier said. Because “they got a real good team, and they”re going to come at us hard. Especially after last year, they”re probably going to try to prove it was just a fluke.”