Many know Austin Ortega as the explosive forward for University of Nebraska at Omaha’s award winning hockey team— a dependable asset and a great scorer. The Austin Ortega off the ice is lesser known, an agreeable, good-natured guy who skated right out of Escondido, California in 2012 to start pursuing his dreams.
Being from California, Ortega said hockey wasn’t a sport at the forefront of his interests. Ice and hockey pads aren’t exactly “So-Cal.” As a young boy Ortega found himself at a hockey rink for a party, he said this was his first introduction to the sport he would come to love.
“I didn’t really know what it was at first, but I just really wanted to play,” Ortega said. “They let me get into it about a year later and since then it’s where I have been.”
Ortega set goals early on to play at the next level; working hard all through school, he eventually played for the United States Hockey League before coming to UNO. He thanks his parents for helping him get this far.
“My parents supported me in moving away from home,” Ortega said. “They have been my greatest influence and inspiration.”
Coach Dean Blais said he has seen growth in Ortega for this season, citing that he is in great physical condition and acting more responsibly on the ice.
“He is being counted on for being a leader and for killing penalties,” Blais said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the ice this year.”
Blais said Ortega needs to keep up that hard work and good attitude if he wants even the slightest chance of playing after college.
“He has been our hardest worker at times and our greatest leader at times, and that is what he will have to do if he wants to play at the next level,” Blais said. “He has no chance if he doesn’t continue that. There are a lot of scorers in the NHL and there are a lot of Austin Ortegas in the NHL. Austin is special because he has the gift of being strong, smart and fast.”
Senior broadcasting student and UNO Athletics Student Manager Alex Abler said he was surprised to not see Ortega named team captain, but he still wants to see a lot of good things from him for his senior season.
“Last year he showed glimmers of being a top five player,” Abler said. “This year he just has to build on that, keep his head down and focus. I think he can and will be on one of the greatest player to play in Omaha.”
Ortega said it is his goal to make it professionally after college and he is looking forward to the rest of the season with the Mavericks.
“I am feeling good. I know that as a team we have a lot of potential and we can do a lot of good things,” Ortega said. “I am just excited to see how well we do this season.”
This Friday at the Baxter Arena the UNO Mavericks kick off a two game series against Colorado College. Coach Blais said in a news conference last week that the home ice advantage was elusive last year. At press time the Mavericks have one home loss under their belt from the University of Vermont, and the crowds have to wonder: can we hold home ice advantage this year?