Tonight, when Michigan faces Nebraska-Omaha, the Wolverines will have their chance to silence all critics with one accomplishment: Driving safely in the snow.
Because according to Michigan captain and Omaha-native Jed Ortmeyer, Michiganders don’t know the first thing about how to handle accumulation on the asphalt.
“When it snowed (Monday), all (Ortmeyer) could talk about is how here, people don’t know how to drive, but back in Omaha people really know how to drive in the snow,” said Bloomfield Hills-resident John Shouneyia, who was making sure that the nearby Ortmeyer could hear every sarcastic word. “Like they’re so special, so far beyond anybody. They’re about 50 years behind – like, where is that place?”
That comment prompted a playful spear tackle into the bleachers and a reporter, and sparked Ortmeyer’s reasoning.
“(Monday) night, the whole car ride, he’s talking about how people in Michigan don’t know how to drive in the snow, but in Omaha they’re such big experts,” Shouneyia asserted again.
Ortmeyer responded: “But they don’t! Some guy ran a stop sign!”
It is doubtful that the Wolverines will have time to test their own driving skills – they still have two hockey games to play on the weekend – and given the 40-degree weather in Omaha right now, they won’t even be able to observe other drivers. So the Ortmeyer-Shouneyia verbal debate will have to be put on hiatus for a while.
But in the midst of all of Shouneyia’s joking, he did bring up an interesting question about Omaha: “Where is that place?” And for that matter, how did a midwestern baseball and football state garner such a strong hockey following?
“If you looked at the tradition of hockey in Omaha, you’d be surprised,” Berenson said. “They’ve had hockey for – I don’t know if it is as long as Detroit’s, but it’s close. So it’s been a grassroots number of people that played there as pros and settled there. And one of those people is a guy by the name of Motto McLean. Motto stayed there, and he helped kids like Jed Ortmeyer. He helped organize minor hockey, and he helped generate enthusiasm for rinks.”
Omaha has been truly beneficial for Michigan. Besides Ortmeyer, who is in his second full season as team captain, two players – Tim Cook and Jason Dest – from the Omaha-based River City Lancers will be freshmen at the University next year.
While growing up in Omaha, though, Ortmeyer played baseball – including a few travel team tournament games in Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium, the home of the College World Series – and had a legitimate shot of playing post-high school ball.
“After I finished high school, I had to make a tough decision of which sport to try and go further in,” Ortmeyer said. “I thought my opportunities to play Division I hockey were better.”
With Ortmeyer’s college career coming to a close – including his possible final appearances playing hockey in Omaha – the captain has begun to think a little about what he might do with his life after the likeliness of pro hockey.
“Who knows? Maybe some high school team will want a coach in both sports,” Ortmeyer said. “I think I’d like to get into coaching hockey more than baseball, but if the opportunity is there, I might take it.”
Jed the Coach is still a long ways away, and according to Shouneyia, it may not be his best choice of profession.
“He’s a real farmer when it comes down to it,” Shouneyia said. “He’s always talking about his animals.”