Farewell to the Civic
UNO hockey team says good-bye to the Civic Auditorium with an eventful celebration
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011 15:03
It's hard to believe that the story actually goes back to 1975.
Mike Kemp, right out of college agreed to come to Omaha to coach a club hockey team in hopes that the following year, the team would go varsity.
It didn't happen, and Kemp skated back to begin his coaching career as an assistant at Wisconsin.
But the job came calling again, and the lure of coaching at the Civic was too much for Kemp to deny.
So in 1996, Kemp again came to UNO and helped begin an era.
Don Leahy, UNO's athletic director at the time, struck a deal with the city to play hockey at the Civic Auditorium, an ideal place for college hockey, and one of the largest college hockey venues at the time.
Tickets first went on sale May 1, 1996 and season tickets were sold out by May 16.
And every ticket every available since then has officially been sold.
What started off as a good idea culminated into a loyal congregation.
Their subject - UNO hockey.
Their sanctuary - the Civic Auditorium.
The first sermon - October 17, 1997 - an exhibition against the University of Manitoba, the beginning of the era.
The team remains, the congregation has grown, but the sanctuary, beginning next October, has changed.
But Saturday night was not a time for mourning; it was a time for celebration.
And what started out as a hockey game turned into a spectacle.
For the 126th consecutive time, the place was sold out as another 8,314 gathered to pay homage.
The UNO Athletic Department rented the old barn for a celebration that lasted from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Before the game started, announcer Fred Brooks preached on about the memories we all hold of the Civic.
The first game, the first goal, the first sweep and the day the roof nearly caved in.
Yes, the Mavericks almost needed a new home before its time.
It was March 14, 2000 when UNO, led by two Jeff Hoggan goals, defeated Bowling Green 3-1 in the CCHA play-in game.
It was UNO's first year in the league and the underdog team battled with heart to the conference championship.
But the road did go through the Civic.
The media guide reads "Civic Auditorium historians say that it may have been the loudest crowd ever to attend a sporting event at that building."
The 8,314 strong created an echo nearly strong enough to collapse the roof on the old barn.
On Saturday, a pyrotechnic display greeted the team as it took the ice for the last time.
The four seniors, David Graham, David Brisson, Greg Zanon and Joe Pereira, were honored for their contributions to the program.
And then a hockey game broke out.
UNO skated to a 2-2 tie.
It really shouldn't have ended like this.
It would have been quite fitting for Zanon to score the game-winning goal.
But the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks decided they were going for a record. So when they tied the game at two and earned an NCAA record-setting 10th tie of the season, they dragged UNO and the Civic into the record books for reasons other than the celebration of the final game.
It's just as well.
And it's fitting the occasion was an all-Maverick celebration.
Afterward, balloons fell as a symbolic final curtain call of the Aud.
As the balloons popped, so too did the timeline of the Civic.
The final speeches were made as Zanon and Head Coach Mike Kemp both spoke of their fondness of the Civic and how much it had meant to the program.
"Finally, at our last night at the Civic, the only home we've known," Kemp said, "We thank you, the fans. And my hope is that you bring this enthusiasm to our new home."
Zanon said the Civic has been his second home, and that the fans are the best he's ever played for.
Joe Pereira cried with his family.
With all the fond memories and celebration, it did bring sadness.
Now the hope is that between now and next October the faithful can recruit enough to build the flock and fill the 14,500-seat MECA arena next year.
It's going to be quite the task for Omaha to continue the sellout streak, and most say it is over.
Most say the ambiance will be lost in the vast expanse of the building.
But that, of course, is up to you, the fans.
But Saturday night was definitely a night to remember for UNO.
A Farewell to the Aud.