Tag Archives: Mavericks

In the Crease, Covered in Grease

October 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 2007, during a race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, Brian Haaland stood up after drilling multiple lug nuts into one of the right tires on Jeff Green’s race car. As Green pulled away and Haaland came to his feet in the middle of a hectic pit row, he quickly glimpsed the hood of Kasey Kahne’s stock car just before it plowed right through him. 

Haaland would surprisingly (and luckily) walk away from the incident almost completely unscathed. But the mishap drove home advice he got from his coaches a few years earlier: Despite what he may think about the straightforward nature of hitting lug nuts into a race car, it would take him at least three years to see everything he might possibly experience as a pit crew member in the wild world of racing. 

Eleven years later, it is now Haaland’s job to impart such wisdom as a pit crew coach for Team Penske. His journey toward becoming one of the best coaches in NASCAR began long before he met the front end of Kasey Kahne’s car, though. It took root during his time playing goalie for the University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey team in the early 2000s. Around that time, his burgeoning interest in racing—and a fortuitous relationship with the Mavericks’ team psychologist—would eventually lead him to trade his professional goalie ambitions for a full-time job changing tires.

Haaland grew up playing hockey in Minot, North Dakota. After progressing through the youth ranks and graduating high school, Haaland played for multiple teams in the United States Hockey League, the country’s premier junior hockey league. 

UNO would eventually ask him to join their squad beginning with the 1999 season. Haaland redshirted his freshman year and played behind eventual NHL star Dan Ellis for much of his career with the Mavericks. “My claim to fame in my college hockey career was that on a few occasions coach thought we had a better chance of winning with me in the net, instead of Dan,” Haaland says. 

Despite the sparse playing time, one of the most consequential relationships in Haaland’s life developed while at UNO. Jack Stark—a longtime performance psychologist for many Nebraska-area teams, including the Nebraska football program and Creighton basketball—served in a similar capacity for the Mavericks at the time. Stark immediately noticed something special in Haaland. 

“I was impressed with how hard he worked and his ability to control his emotions while playing the mentally exhausting goalie position,” Stark says. “I also always thought he was just the nicest kid.”  

Other than Haaland’s good nature, the pair also bonded over Stark’s new project—serving as a psychologist for NASCAR drivers and the pit crew teams at Hendrick Motorsports. 

Haaland saw his first NASCAR race while visiting his older brother Blair in California during the summer of 2001. “I thought this is loud, and it was actually kind of boring just watching the cars go round and round,” says the former Maverick goalie. “But I saw the cars go down pit road, the athletes jump over the wall and change the tires so quickly, and I thought that part was awesome.” 

Stark would make sure that Haaland got to see just how awesome being a pit crew member could be. Shortly after Haaland’s graduation, Stark—thinking the flexibility and mental toughness that made Haaland a good goalie would translate to changing tires—helped get him get a tryout with the Hendrick Motorsports team. Haaland would make the team as a tire changer in 2004, but he worked mostly in a backup role for the racing behemoth’s most notable cars. 

He did, however, come to see that there are few more intense settings in sports than pit road at a NASCAR race. Amidst roaring engines and zooming cars, a missed lug nut or a slow fueling job could cost a car 10 to 20 spots as pit crews battle to beat other teams by just hundredths of a second. 

Out of a desire to perfect the razor-thin margin associated with pit stops and to hopefully have a long career in the sport, Haaland eventually accepted the job as a pit crew coach for Team Penske.  

“He’s become one of the best coaches in the sport,” Stark says. “He could go to any team he wants. Penske is lucky to have him.”

Hockey is still a part of Haaland’s life as well. For the past 10 years, he has been a goalie coach in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. He sees 30 to 35 goalies a week and some of them come from as far as Augusta, Georgia.  

But whether he is mentoring former Division I athletes trying to make NASCAR pit crews or young goalies, he constantly draws on advice from the litany of incredible coaches he learned from during his time in Omaha—including Stark, who remains one his closest confidants. 


Haaland owns and operates Old School Goal School, a goalie camp in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit oldschoolgoalschool.com for more information.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Life as a Maverick

June 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Erin Owen is an enthusiastic supporter of the Mavericks—the academic and athletic symbol of the University of Nebraska at Omaha where she now serves as executive director of the Office of University Communications.

The word “maverick” also means an independent thinker. That description fits Owen.

And she has always worked for mavericks—such as her first boss, then-U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey. She first met him at neighborhood block parties in the Cathedral neighborhood of Omaha where she grew up.

Being hired as a receptionist in Kerrey’s Washington office in 1994 was her big break. During her six years there, she moved up to assistant communications director and creator-producer of the senator’s cable show.

ErinOwen2“Bob Kerrey is a maverick because he is an innovative thinker. He has the ability to be frank,” Owen says. “He had the courage to speak out and be honest with his observations.”

Kerrey says: “Whatever capacity and courage I have to think independently and acquire a reputation of being a maverick was enabled by other mavericks like Erin.”

Owen, while still in high school, entered the political sphere as an unpaid volunteer for Kerrey’s 1988 senate campaign. She has never seen age—or anything, for that matter—as a hurdle that can’t be overcome. “I don’t see barriers when I’m trying to accomplish something; if there is a will, there is a way. And I won’t stop trying.”

Her next boss was Tim Russert, bureau chief of NBC’s Washington bureau and moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press before his death in 2008. She became the show’s producer.   

“Tim was the quintessential maverick,” Owen says. “He didn’t think in a conventional way. He was a lawyer with a critical mind. Tim was able to take the most complicated topic and boil it down so everyone understood.”

Her five years producing Meet the Press, the longest-running news show in television history, came during an exciting time in history. She remembers the presidential election coverage in 2000 when the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush came down to a handful of votes.

“Tim and Tom Brokaw never got up from the anchor desk for 11 hours. It was one of the most exhilarating nights of my life.”

Owen and her husband, Rob, returned to Omaha from Washington, D.C., in 2009 after their daughter, Ava, was born.

She grew up in a family of mavericks. “My dad (writer and journalist Jim Fogarty) has always been an independent thinker, and he has encouraged independent thinking.”

She describes her husband as a “quiet maverick.”  Rob Owen is general counsel for the La Vista laboratory-products company Streck.

Her passion is to share with UNO students what being a Maverick means.

She cites the university’s marketing mantra:  “We are independent thinkers. Explorers. Risk takers. We are willing to go against the grain; ask the hard questions; and look at challenges in a different way. We collaborate. We serve. We represent. We grow. We are doing things that people said would never happen. We are loud. We are proud. We are Mavericks!”

Visit unomaha.edu to learn more.

It’s Hockey Time in Omaha!

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and Jeff Beiermann

Omaha may not appear to be a hockey town to the casual observer, but you don’t have to peel back the layers too far to find evidence of such.

The University of Nebraska-Omaha and Omaha Lancers, who carry the hockey banner in Omaha, have consistently played quality hockey with the Mavericks making two trips to the NCAA Tournament in their 15 years of competition, while the Lancers have accumulated more United States Hockey League Championships (13) than any other USHL teams since they joined the league in 1986.

And fan support has and continues to be second to none.

UNO Mavericks

The University of Nebraska-Omaha Maverick hockey team.

“Omaha is a good hockey town,” UNO Mavericks head coach Dean Blais says. “We’re near the top of the country in terms of attendance on a yearly basis. The support from the fans is huge and their commitment is extremely important to our program.”

Mike Aiken, Lancers head coach and general manager, adds, “Omaha has always had a strong hockey following, and it’s only getting better. There’s great development within the youth league and with the new arenas providing additional ice time that will only increase.”

This winter Omaha hockey will get another boost as an unique event will be held at TD Ameritrade Park. The Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice February 9 will feature a doubleheader as both Omaha squads entertain two of their fiercest rivals. The Mavericks take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux while the Lancers face the Lincoln Stars.

“This area turns out some good kids with the strong youth hockey program, and I think that development will grow with the addition of hockey facilities in the city.” – Dean Blais, head coach of UNO Mavericks hockey team

“The concept came from the Omaha Lancers and the doubleheader gave us the best chance of having a successful event such as this,” comments Harold Cliff, the President of the Omaha Sports Commission. “We wanted meaningful games and to provide something different at another one of the great Omaha venues. Omaha is a great sports community. These teams have competed well in the past and this is another opportunity to display their talents. With the doubleheader we’ll also be able to provide two different types of hockey and expect strong attendance. It may not be something we can do annually, but we’ll measure the response and this could grow. A lot depends on support. Sponsors also play a large part, and Mutual of Omaha stepped up in a big way for this year. Local hockey interest remains strong, and we are confident this will be a successful event.”

Omaha Lancers practice at Ralston Arena.

Omaha Lancers practice at Ralston Arena.

Blais and Aiken echo Cliff’s excitement for this upcoming event and believe it’s a great opportunity to showcase their teams.

“It will be an awesome event,” Aiken says. “With us playing Lincoln, which is one of the best rivalries in the league, it should be a great experience for the players and fans alike.”

It’s undoubtedly an exciting time for hockey in Omaha as this season the Lancers began play in the brand-new Ralston Arena.

“We’ve moved into an unbelievable building, and we feel fortunate to have such a facility,” says Aiken. “Our facilities are second to none and give us the opportunity to recruit the best players out there. We’re more than hockey, it’s an entertainment package. A fan friendly atmosphere with great hockey, which people can really enjoy. We get involved with the community quite a bit, and we plan to continue to promote our organization through the good people who are a part of it.”

UNO will also be changing home ice in the future after announcing plans in late 2012 to build an on-campus arena to host indoor Maverick athletics including hockey.

UNO Mavericks play Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in November.

UNO Mavericks play Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in November 2012.

“This area turns out some good kids with the strong youth hockey program, and I think that development will grow with the addition of hockey facilities in the city,” Blais explains. “More kids will be able to get ice time, which will be great for the future. Our future goals include winning a national championship. As we move into a very good conference (WCHA), it will help with recruiting. We like the state of our program and what we think we’ll be able to accomplish in the future.”

That future looks bright, for all those involved and interested in Omaha hockey, thanks to the commitment from the organizations, community, and fans alike.