Report: Blais Returning to North Dakota
by Virg Foss/Staff Writer
It appears that Dean Blais is headed back to North Dakota to coach hockey again.
Blais, who won two NCAA championships while coaching the UND men's hockey team from 1994 through 2004, may land south of Grand Forks in his new role.
At a press conference scheduled for Feb. 22 in Fargo, Blais is expected to be named coach of a new United States Hockey League franchise in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Blais, an International Falls, Minn., native, is expected to be at the press conference, along with USHL commissioner Gino Gasparini, another former UND coach.
Blais works for the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League and is under contract with Columbus until July 1. Plans are under way in Fargo to build a $30 million, 5,000-seat arena a mile southwest of the city that would be used by the new USHL team, as well as by Fargo high school teams.
The arena is scheduled to be ready for the start of the 2008-09 season, when the Fargo-based team would begin play in the USHL. The arena will feature 40 suites and is scheduled to be finished in 18 months from the time construction starts.
A source close to the situation said that while Blais is expected to be the coach of the new Fargo-Moorhead franchise, he will keep his options open in case an attractive college coaching job opens.
Blais said on a Fargo radio show recently that he would definitely be interested in returning to coaching college hockey if the right job becomes available.
Blais is in Orono, Maine, this weekend to watch the Hockey East battle between Vermont and Maine, scouting free-agent prospects for the Blue Jackets. While he has been in charge of player development for Columbus, he is now on special assignment to rank the top 25 free agents.
Blais, who served as an assistant coach under Gasparini at UND, finished with the best winning percentage of any coach in Fighting Sioux history. His record of 262-115-13 computes to a .733 winning percentage, which placed him No. 1 among all active college coaches at the time of his departure from UND.
Blais, who turned 56 on Jan. 18, would receive a long-term contract from the Fargo-Moorhead team. A source close to the situation also said Blais would have other financial incentives built into his contract. He also would be given a retirement package and input into the construction of the new rink, just as he did with Ralph Engelstad Arena at UND.
Blais was the winner of the Spencer Penrose Award as Division I College Coach of the Year in 1997 and 2001 by the American Hockey Coaches Association.
He took the Sioux in his third season as coach in 1997 to the NCAA title and followed that up with another national championship in 2000. In addition, his UND teams reached the NCAA championship game in 2001 and 2004 and advanced to the NCAA tournament in seven of his 10 years as coach.
He joined Columbus in 2004 as associate head coach.