With Dean Blais leaving North Dakota for the NHL, USA Hockey also needs a new coach for the team that will defend the gold medal at the World Junior Championship in December and January.
Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s senior director of hockey operations, confirmed Friday that Blais will step down from his position as the coach of the U.S. National Junior Team for the tournament that will be held in Grand Forks, N.D., and Thief River Falls, Minn.
Blais is leaving North Dakota after 10 years as head coach to become an associate head coach with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It’s tough to lose a guy like Dean, but it opens the door for someone else,” Johannson said.
That someone else apparently won’t be Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, who led the Americans to their first gold medal at the tournament last season. He said Friday he won’t leave his team for a second straight year.
“I’ve already gone down that path,” he said. “I talked to the university here and I talked to people in USA Hockey. If it was in the summer or if it was out of season, yeah, but my main job is right here at the university. It was a unique situation last year doing it.
“Maybe once every four years or something like that, but my main focus needs to be here at the university.”
Blais was a natural pick for the Team USA job because of the tournament’s location. His presence would have been a great draw in North Dakota.
Now, Johannson said USA Hockey will look back at the list of candidates it had before Blais was given the post in March.
The coaching staff also includes Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, a former North Dakota player and assistant coach who is considered an early favorite to succeed Blais with the Sioux, and David Quinn, who recently left USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program to become the associate head coach at Boston University.
An evaluation camp is scheduled for Aug. 9-14 in Grand Forks to help determine the American roster for the World Juniors, so the process of finding a new coach is expected to be expedited.