Friday, June 12, 2009

Not Blasé About UNO Head Coach Dean Blais

When Trev Alberts introduced Dean Blais as UNO's new hockey coach this afternoon, the news echoed through the college hockey world, and the response can be summarized in one word: "Whoa."

Locally, the name Dean Blais doesn't mean much. I'll freely admit, that it didn't mean much to me until a month ago. I don't follow the WCHA or the USHL that closely, though once I connected Blais to North Dakota's national championships, I was intrigued. Then I dug into Blais' record:

At North Dakota:
  • 262-115-33 in ten seasons
  • Five WCHA conference titles in ten seasons
  • Two WCHA championships
  • Seven NCAA tournament berths in ten seasons
  • Two National Championships, and one Frozen Four Runner-Up
How can you not be impressed by that record? Then add in what Blais did at Fargo, taking a first year team into the USHL finals, sweeping the Omaha Lancers out of the playoffs and being named USHL coach of the year.

With all due respect to the other candidates, the Blais resume stands head and shoulders above the rest. Locally, I'm sure that Mike Hastings would make a bigger splash initially with his name recognition from his years with the Omaha Lancers. But let me put this hire into perspective in comparison. This is like Iowa State hiring Barry Switzer. This is like Nebraska basketball hiring Rick Pitino. This is like Nebraska baseball hiring Augie Garrido instead of Dave Van Horn in the late 90's. Trev Alberts went out and signed a coach who will be second amongst active coaches in winning percentage when the Mavs take the ice this October.

Blais will bring a much different style of hockey to UNO this fall: a run-and-gun high-octane speed offense. (Can you imagine Alex Hudson in this type of offense?) Kemp has been more of a defensive oriented coach, so I'm sure the transition may be rough initially. But Blais' Fargo squad became quite the force by the end of the season, and Blais won a national championship in year three with the Sioux. In fact, look at the comments from SiouxSports.com:
"which will come first-blais winning his third NC or his hand picked successor(sp) Hak winning his first?"
"The upgrade in effort on the ice his first year at UND was unmistakable. I'm sure the fans in Omaha are in for a similar treat."
"I will predict that he'll have UNO in the Frozen Four within 3 years though."
Some people use a baseball analogy, calling this a "home run" hire. I'll use a hockey analogy. "Trev Alberts shoots...and scores!" While I credit Mike Kemp for helping point Alberts towards Blais, I'm giving Alberts the credit for pulling it off when frankly, very few gave UNO a chance to pull it off.

In fact, Alberts had to sell Blais on the job. Blais turned down an initial offer, but on Wednesday, he came across the following quote from Bill Bradley:
"Ambition is the key to success. Persistence is the vehicle you'll arrive in."
So on Wednesday, Alberts told Kemp that he was going to make a second run at Blais. He worked out the deal with Blais, then worked out the deal with the "boosters of substance" that helped bring Alberts to UNO in the first place. It's a good investment for UNO; when UNO has a chance to hire someone like a Dean Blais, you do everything in your power to make it happen.

And it has happened. After David Miller resigned in March, I stated that UNO's biggest need was a leader with vision who could make things happen. Within a month, Trev Alberts was hired and despite no experience in administration, he has become exactly that leader -- and then some. UNO ended last hockey season with many question marks; now the Maverick hockey program finds itself on a path towards elite status in college hockey.

(Photo courtesy of mavpuck.com )

1 comment:

midspan said...

Dead on! Great hire!