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Omaha Lancers players walk out, coaching staff resigns en masse after building tensions boil over

Lancers players do not plan to play games this weekend without changes in the organization.

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The Omaha Lancers, once known as one of the United States Hockey League's model franchises, unraveled Thursday as boiling tensions — that started with mass budget cuts and were set aflame by the recent firing of successful coach Chadd Cassidy — came to the surface.

Lancers players walked out Thursday morning and are refusing to play this weekend's games at Waterloo and Lincoln. The entire remaining staff resigned, including acting head coach Sean Walsh, assistant coach Tate Maris and trainer Nick Hart.

The Herald talked to 12 sources about the situation on Wednesday and Thursday.

All said it began building earlier this season as the Lancers, owned by Anthony DiCesare, made major budget cuts that included the team's video software, player equipment and even postgame meals for players.

Despite that, Omaha started the season 8-4-2 and was seen as a team vastly outperforming expectations by both NHL scouts and other league personnel.

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But last week, the Lancers suddenly decided to let go of Cassidy, who was hired just four months earlier to replace David Wilkie.

The Lancers quickly shifted course after learning there would not be enough certified coaches behind the bench for the weekend's games because Maris was scheduled to be with the local AAA team. The Lancers asked Cassidy to coach last weekend's games and suggested they may reconsider their course of action. Cassidy agreed to coach and he did coach. Omaha swept Sioux Falls.

Cassidy was still let go this week, though the detailed reasons for his ousting are largely unclear.

Lancers president David DeLuca sent a note to billet families this week saying that Cassidy had stepped down and "we are moving forward and looking out the front window and not the rear view mirror."

The email irked those in the organization who knew it wasn't true.

Tensions also were heightened in the organization because of Cassidy's controversial ouster.

The Lancers named Walsh, the son of legendary Maine coach Shawn Walsh and grandson of legendary Michigan State coach Ron Mason, as acting head coach. They also discussed making an injured defenseman, Nick Perna, an assistant coach working with the blue liners.

On Thursday morning, it hit a boiling point when Walsh entered DeLuca's office and asked about a potential pay raise if he's going to be the head coach for the rest of the season. DeLuca became enraged, cursed at Walsh and told him to get out of the office. DeLuca, a former Las Vegas firefighter, pursued Walsh down the hall, continuing his tirade.

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When Walsh informed Maris of what happened, Maris, a former UND goalie, decided to resign.

Walsh, Maris and the team's captains held a meeting, where Walsh told the players if they wanted to play this weekend, he would be there behind the bench for them. But if they decided to walk, he would walk with them. The players decided to boycott the games. Walsh resigned. Team trainer Nick Hart followed.

The team's assistant general manager, Jeff Cox, who is based on the East Coast, also resigned.

The USHL released a statement that said: "We are aware of the reports about the Omaha Lancers and are actively working to resolve this matter. We have standards we take seriously in order to provide the best possible experience for all players who participate in the USHL."

Omaha announced Thursday afternoon that former ECHL coach Gary Graham as the interim head coach.

UND does not have any committed recruits on the Lancers roster.

One Lancers player, forward Daimon Gardner, decided last week to leave Omaha and play prep hockey this season with Warroad (Minn.) High School.

Multiple NCAA coaches spoke in favor of Cassidy on Thursday, including Providence's Nate Leaman.

Related Topics: HOCKEY
Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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