Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Who Will Replace Dean Blais at UNO?

Deep down, I knew it probably was coming.  I hoped it wouldn't, but I had that feeling that Dean Blais wasn't going to return behind the bench for UNO hockey.  My emotions ran the gamut:  disappointment that he wouldn't be back, anger at the fans that turned on a coach that two years ago put UNO on the biggest stage in college hockey, gratefulness that Blais took a chance on UNO and elevated the program.

And perhaps more importantly: concerned about who will take over.  I'm sure there are more candidates out there than this, but I'll throw three names out there who should be considered...and one who absolutely should not be considered in 2017.

Mike Guentzel
I had Guentzel on my short list in 2009, and I have no reason to not put him back again in 2017. Many people have him as the heir apparent to Minnesota's Don Lucia; eight years ago, it looked like Lucia might eventually wear out his welcome in the Twin Cities, but now it looks like Lucia will be a Gopher as long as he wants.  And since Guentzel is just four years younger than Lucia, there's not much reason for Guentzel to wait if he wants to be a head coach.  Guentzel is a former Lancer head coach, and was an assistant under Blais in 2010.  His son Jake was born in Omaha (when Mike was the head Lancer), and played at UNO from 2013 through last season.  You may remember Mike's reaction in November when Jake scored his first NHL goal on his very first shift for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Hastings
Eight years ago, I thought that Hastings wasn't qualified to be the UNO head coach. I wasn't even sure he was ready to be the "heir apparent" at that point.  But I did say this at that time:
Hastings might look like the slam dunk candidate when that time comes, but for now, it's just unnecessary speculation. Especially after the absurd rumors from this past winter that Hastings would take over as UNO head coach. 
 Well, now Hastings has nine years of college experience, including four as the head coach of Minnesota State-Mankato. He's got the qualifications now.  Would he want to return to Omaha?  Who knows, but considering that Hastings was making $290,000 two seasons ago, he'd probably have to be offered more money than Dean Blais.  And that might be a tough sell given UNO's financial issues.

Cary Eades
This is an outlier name here for sure, but the connections are strong.  Eades spent 15 years as an assistant at North Dakota and has been a head coach in the USHL, winning championships with Dubuque, Sioux Falls and Fargo. He's been a winner wherever he's gone.

Now, the name who really shouldn't be considered: Mike Gabinet. Nostalgic fans remember Gabinet wearing the crimson and black from 2000 through 2004, and want the best for him.  But he's only been coaching since 2012, and up until this season, all have been in Canada. Yes, he's undefeated as a head coach, going 36-0 last season as the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology head coach.  But that's Canadian college hockey. He doesn't have the recruiting connections to college hockey.

Hockey is not like the other sports at UNO.  In the Summit League, UNO can take a chance on a young coach because the competition level just isn't there.  When South Dakota State captured the Summit League's autobid into the NCAA Tournament, the Jackrabbits were awarded a #16 seed and get to play Gonzaga in the first round.  That's where the Summit League is at; it's a low division 1 conference.

Hockey plays in the NCHC, which is arguably like the SEC was in college football. Remember when Skip Bayless tried to argue that four SEC West schools should make the college football playoff?  Well, the NCHC could actually do something close in college hockey.  The NCAA uses the PairWise rankings to select and seed the teams in the hockey tournament, and three of the top four seeds are NCHC schools:  #1 Denver, #2 Minnesota-Duluth and #4 Western Michigan.  And it's not just this season:  the NCHC has put two teams in the Frozen Four the previous two seasons as well.

You are going to throw a coach into this conference with almost no experience coaching at this level? That's simply absurd. It would be a great story if Gabinet was retained by the next UNO head coach, but if UNO has any intention of taking hockey seriously, he can't be a serious candidate.

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