June 12, 2009 - United States Hockey League (USHL)
Chicago, IL - The University of Nebraska at Omaha announced today that Dean Blais has been named the head coach of the Division I men\'s ice hockey program. The reigning USHL Coach of the Year leaves the Fargo Force after one season with the club and a trip to the Clark Cup Finals.
"It's been a privilege to get to know Dean over the past year," stated Skip Prince, USHL Commissioner. "Not only the Fargo Force, but the entire USHL, benefited from the standards of excellence that he's set in his short time here. We'll miss him, but as a League we're looking forward to the success he will bring to the UNO program - and to the great hockey that Omaha now hosts with both UNO and our Omaha Lancers in town."
Blais led the Fargo Force to a 32-23-5 regular season record in their first season of play. Playing through adversity, which included the first eight games of the season on the road, he led the youngest team in the USHL to a postseason berth. That accomplishment seemed unlikely early in the 2008-09 campaign as the club won just three of its first 11 contests while awaiting the completion of Fargo\'s new Urban Plains Center. Blais guided the team to a strong finish and entered the Clark Cup playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the League with a 15-4-3 record over the final 22 games of the regular season.
In the playoffs, Blais led Fargo to a sweep of its first two playoff opponents becoming just the second expansion club to reach the Clark Cup Finals in its first season of play, ultimately falling to the Indiana Ice, three games to one, in the best-of-five Finals.
In addition to team success, Coach Blais\' renowned talent for developing hockey players came to the forefront as several Force players earned individual accolades. They included Mike Lee, USHL Goaltender of the Year, member of the USHL All-Rookie Team, and USA Hockey\'s Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year; and Andy Taranto, who tied for the league lead in goals scored (34) during the regular season and was named to the All-USHL Second Team. Three other Fargo players - Josh Birkholz, Keegan Flaherty, and Oleg Lee - appeared on the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings of top North American skaters leading into June\'s NHL Draft. A total of 16 players for the Fargo Force have committed to play collegiate hockey following their USHL careers.
Blais was also recently named the head coach of the 2010 U.S. Junior National Team that will compete in the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship scheduled December 26, 2009 through January 5, 2010 in Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan. He will be making his fourth appearance as a coach with the team having served as the head coach in 1994 and an assistant in 1988 and 1989. Blais also served as assistant coach for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Men\'s Ice Hockey Team and was an assistant for Team USA at the 2000 IIHF World Championship.
Blais\' appointment to the University of Nebraska at Omaha post marks his return to Division I college hockey. Prior to the USHL, he was the head coach for the University of North Dakota men\'s hockey team for 10 seasons (1994-04). He was twice named the National Coach of the Year and led the Fighting Sioux to the NCAA Championship in 1997 and 2000. He left the program with an overall record of 262-115-33.
Six players who played in the USHL during the 2008-09 season have committed to play hockey at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, including Nick Oddo (Cedar Rapids), Nick Cecere (Des Moines), Brent Gwidt (Indiana), Brandon Richardson (Indiana), Ryan Kretzer (Lincoln), and Terry Broadhurst (Sioux Falls).
The USHL celebrated its 30th season of junior hockey in 2008-09. With over 175 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools and 16 NHL Draft picks that played in the league this season, the USHL is the nation's foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.ushl.com.