By Nolan Sullivan


This Kidwell-sponsored content series highlights the unique stories of UNO student-athletes that have built a special connection to our city and community.


This Kidwell-sponsored content series highlights the unique stories of UNO student-athletes that have built a special connection to our city and community.

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

No matter what you’re doing in life, you want to surround yourself with great people. Growing up in Minnesota, I’ve always had the good fortune of being embraced by a supportive and loving hockey community.

As I got older and ventured my way out of Minnesota in my hockey career, building relationships and a strong culture have always stuck with me.

They’re what I value more than anything else.

In my fourth season with UNO, it’s been an incredible blessing to be here because we share the same principles. A saying that gets thrown around the program all the time is that we recruit on character first, skill and ability second.

This embodies everything I believe in as a student-athlete.

You can be the next Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews, but if all you care about are individual stats and achievements, that’s going to lead to an unfulfilling life and career.

My journey to Omaha came together at the last minute, but when I signed on the dotted line to play for the Mavs, I knew instantly that I wanted to create an impact on this university, program, and community.

Scoring goals and beating top-ranked teams are fun.

But establishing a culture of responsibility, self-discipline, and respect is how you leave behind a legacy that will be remembered forever.

Opportunity to build character

My first year in the USHL for the Muskegon Lumberjacks was far from stellar.

I didn’t play well at all.

At this point, I’d had enough of junior hockey. I was ready to play college hockey somewhere.

That’s why, as strange as it sounds, playing hockey in West Point at Army became an early contender. They were the first school that told me I only had to play one year of junior hockey in the USHL, so that was an enticing option for me.

I was also talking to St. Lawrence and was due to make a decision on one of those two schools in the next few weeks.

That’s when UNO got in touch with me.

I actually had spoken with the previous coaching staff at UNO, and that’s how Coach Bernier had my contact information and got ahold of me.

It just so happened that there was a trial camp in Muskegon the following weekend. He came up to watch me play and essentially offered me a scholarship on the spot.

I knew UNO would give me the best chance to develop as a player and embark on a professional career, but more importantly, this was an exciting time for the program.

I was Coach Bernier’s first recruit, in fact.

And once I got to talk with our head coach, I could tell he was building something special when he preached about the importance of culture and leadership.

I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.

Bigger than hockey

It didn’t take me long to discover how extraordinary UNO hockey and the Omaha community in general are.

Within my first few seasons, we helped establish a locker room culture based on character and heart.

I can’t tell you what a privilege it is to take the ice surrounded by guys who have my back and are willing to put it all on the line each and every night.

The support in the community is also unmatched, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting involved in the Omaha community through a variety of different outlets.

One community member who’s become a favorite of mine is a young man named Isaac Barchus.

He has a rare genetic disease, but I can promise you this doesn’t stop him from living his best life.

He’s a massive Mavs hockey fan, and he’s been around the team for the last several years, hanging out with us in the locker room.

We have a nameplate for him and everything.

I first met him when he was in high school.

He’s now a freshman at UNO, and his role on the team has certainly evolved — we just love having him be around the team.

After victories, one of the first things I do in the lobby is hoist him on my shoulders as we all sing the fight song together as a team.

Isaac is such an inspiration to me.

If I ever have a bad game or practice and start to get down on myself, he reminds me to add a bit of perspective to those experiences.

He just keeps pushing forward with a smile on his face, regardless of the trial and tribulations he encounters in bis life.

Using my platform as a Division I hockey player to elevate people in the community like Isaac is what being a student-athlete is all about.

It starts with me

I’ve been blessed to have a leadership role on the team the past few seasons as an assistant captain, and it’s been an honor of my life to wear the “C” on my chest this season as the team captain.

I dealt with quite a few injuries during my sophomore and junior seasons, which has only made me a better leader. When I physically couldn’t be out there with my teammates on the ice, I was doing everything I could to motivate the team and be a positive influence.

That’s what personifies UNO hockey.

From the first day I stepped on the ice, it’s always been about the individual over the hockey player.

It’s not about me, but it starts with me.

Coach says this all the time.

It’s been special to have a locker room full of guys that not only believe in that message but execute it every single day through our actions on and off the ice.

We know we have a unique platform to impact the school and community.

We also have the realization to know that hockey’s temporary.

No matter how talented we are, we know the day will come when we have to hang our skates up, which is why I feel so fortunate to have developed the leadership skills at UNO that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.

And to have built a culture with my teammates and coaches that means more to me than a red light and sounding horn ever could.