A few inches of padding, one blurry puck and 10 agonizing minutes kept UNO from advancing to the second round of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament last week. Was it or wasn’t it a goal? Doesn’t matter. The officials in last Friday’s UNO-Michigan game eventually, after 10 minutes of review that seemed to define the word inconclusive, ruled that it was and that was it. As is often the case in sports, the end betrayed the journey. UNO had a disproportionately rough end to the season. First there was the first round exit in the WCHA finals. Then there was the controversial end to the Michigan game. In between there was the controversy over the end of the football and wrestling programs and the university’s move to Division I athletics casting a pall over the entire campus. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a great season. Two teams from the WCHA — Denver and Minnesota-Duluth — are in the Frozen Four. UNO beat both of them during the regular season. The other two teams to make it to St. Paul are Notre Dame and Michigan. The Mavs have beaten both of those teams under Blais as well. In their first year in the SEC of hockey conferences the Mavs finished third, one point out of second place. They climbed as high as No. 4 in the national rankings. In two years Dean Blais has won 41 games. In the despair of a disputed defeat it’s easy to look past the accomplishments, but UNO hockey made a statement this year: We can beat anyone. There was a telling moment in the history of UNO hockey last Friday. It happened before the game when a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked Blais if he thought his program was on the rise. “We are there,” Blais responded. “It is not an accident.” Note the word choice. Not getting there, but there. Ready to compete with the nation’s best. Not the fledgling program just hoping to build something great, but a group who is on the brink of achieving it. With 15 freshmen and sophomores returning from this year’s team, UNO can open next season with legitimate expectations of winning the WCHA. Do that and you’re a front-runner in the national title race. That’s where UNO hockey is at today.

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