1,500-mile road trip brings three buses of Omaha students to Boston

Hundreds of fans turned out Monday to wish Omaha well well in its first appearance in the Frozen Four (photo: Michelle Bishop).

BOSTON — It’s the quite the road trip. Nearly 1,500 miles, each way.

Upwards of 125 students from Omaha are en route to TD Garden on three buses for the Mavericks’ national semifinal game against Providence.

2015 Frozen Four

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For just $250, it’s an all-inclusive trip. Power outlets! A bathroom in the back of the coach! Company from fellow Mavs fanatics!

Actually, it’s a heck of a deal — win or lose, the students get to stay the weekend in Boston, and their tickets are covered for both Thursday and Saturday.

Bill Pickett, senior director of student involvement at UNO, called the trip a no-brainer after a similar trip was made for the Midwest Regional in South Bend, Ind. Roughly 60 took the school’s offer then.

“When we got back on campus, the excitement seemed to double and triple,” Pickett said Wednesday over the phone — he was on his way to Syracuse to meet the buses for their overnight stop before hitting the road again on Thursday morning.

So the university went for two buses again — except the demand was so great that it was forced to arrange for a third.

The journey started at 3 a.m. Wednesday in Omaha with breakfast and a final count of the students making the trip.

“It was a bit early, but everyone was in great spirits,” Pickett said. “A lot of students didn’t go to bed, knowing that they could sleep on the bus.”

While the bulk of the cost was covered by what students paid up front, the student government approved a $15,000 sponsorship from student fees to cover a portion of the trip, with the university and the Nebraska Foundation filling in the rest of the gaps.

Even fellow fans have chipped in to help with the journey.

Jon and Bridget Brooks co-founded fan website MavPuck.com in 2000 — they’re rabid UNO fans, having never missed a home game in the 18 seasons the Mavs have been around.

The two helped solicit donations from fans on social media and raised north of $2,500 to give to students making the trip.

“We saw the energy and excitement and saw the university was putting together student buses to Boston,” Bridget said. “While we couldn’t raise enough money in five days to cover the whole cost, it would be great to give a bit of money, perhaps for lunch or a souvenir puck.”

 

It’s not much, but the generosity isn’t lost on the students.

“We don’t have the history of North Dakota, but the fan support for this program has been there from the beginning,” Bridget Brooks said. “I’m not surprised to see the volume of fan interest at all.”

It’s led to a swell of fan support on campus.

“It’s something that’s never really happened to us before,” said Avery Wenck, a junior at Omaha and the student radio broadcaster for the Mavericks. “For Duke, you’re in the Final Four all the time. Obviously, college hockey is different, but for a team from Omaha with 17 underclassmen to make the Frozen Four? That’s not supposed to happen.”

So, what does one do to keep occupied when the first leg of the journey is upwards of 16 hours?

For freshman Michaela Gibbons, who is making the trip, it hasn’t been that bad.

“We started watching the movie ‘Miracle,’ which is getting everyone even more pumped for the game tomorrow,” Gibbons said via e-mail Wednesday as her bus had just left Toledo, Ohio.

Besides the slow WiFi on the bus from continuous use, everything’s going well. People are playing card games, doing homework and surfing social media.

 

Yes, the reality is that several days of classes will be missed. But that doesn’t seem to be an issue.

“As far as I know, all of the teachers were very understanding of the students missing classes,” Gibbons said. “This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and they understand that, so all of the teachers that I know of were supportive of the students going and missing some classes.”

They’re calling it Frozen Fever in Omaha. After 1,500 miles on the road, Mavs fans hope the symptoms last all the way through Saturday.