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January 31, 2007 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Will Blais Be Back?

by Virg Foss/Staff Writer

Will Dean Blais soon appear in a college hockey rink near you?

The answer to that may be yes, judging by his recent comments on an area radio show. Bernie Burggraf, the former mayor of Roseau, Minn., and a longtime close friend of Blais, had the former UND men's hockey coach on his Fargo radio show.

(See companion piece: )

According to Burggraf, Blais said on the show that he is open to any and all offers to return to coaching college hockey.

Blais won two NCAA championships and finished with a .733 winning percentage in his 10 years (1994-2004) as head coach at UND. Two other times his team reached the NCAA title game, only to lose.

He left UND to become associate head coach of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. After some disagreements with head coach Gerard Gallant over coaching philosophy, Blais left that position and has since been in charge of player development with the Blue Jackets.

Burggraf, the father of former Sioux players Mike and Frank Burggraf, said Blais has a hunger to coach again.

"He said he misses the hands-on approach of coaching," Burggraf said. "I have no doubt he would jump at the chance to get back into coaching in
college."

When Blais was at UND, he said several times that 10 years in one job was long enough, that it was then time to move on.

True to his word, he left UND after 10 years as head coach after replacing Gino Gasparini, who had three NCAA titles to his credit.

When Blais left UND, he said it was his goal to eventually be a head coach in the NHL.

He's now in the third and final year of his initial contract with Columbus.

A lot has changed for the popular Blais since he left UND. He lost his wife, Wendy, to Lou Gehrig's disease but has seen the return to health of his daughter, Mary, from her life-threatening illness that came when Blais was still at UND.

His split with Gallant, who has since been fired by Columbus and replaced by Ken Hitchcock, hasn't made it any easier for Blais, an International Falls, Minn., native.

Now it appears the 56-year-old Blais is at a stage in his life where he's eager for one last shot at coaching college hockey.

Where that would be isn't clear.

The most likely place could be Minnesota State-Mankato, where Troy Jutting hasn't been able to produce a winner. The well-publicized blowup of Jutting and assistant Eric Means at the referee following a game against Minnesota in Minneapolis recently certainly didn't help Jutting's case. Dean's longtime assistant at UND, Scott Sandelin, is under increasing pressure at Minnesota-Duluth. Sandelin, though, signed a three-year contract extension last summer. Sources in Duluth tell me the school doesn't have the money to buy out Sandelin's contract, even if it wanted to.

Alaska-Anchorage must open Dave Shyiak's coaching position to all comers as well. Shyiak, a Brandon, Man., native and a Canadian citizen, could lose his job because of immigration issues.

The U.S. Labor Department must certify that there are "no qualified U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job at the prevailing wage" in order to retain Shyiak.

If Blais is willing to go north to Alaska, he just might blow Shyiak right out of the job, even though Anchorage wants to keep him.

It's my feeling that Anchorage would not be high on the list of jobs that would attract Blais, but one never knows with Dean. He's always been one to act and speak "outside the box," which is part of what makes him such a unique and colorful individual.

Blais is a proven winner as a coach, as a recruiter, as a personality, who would breath life into any program.

As one of my favorite people of all time, I can only wish Dean all the best, wherever life takes him.

If that takes him back to college coaching, so much the better for him - and most certainly for college hockey.

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