Dean Blais is back in college hockey.
Will his next move be back to the WCHA?
That much is uncertain, but what’s known is that Blais is the new coach at Nebraska-Omaha, a move that was announced at a news conference Friday in Omaha, Neb.
Blais, a two-time national champion in 10 seasons at North Dakota, resigned as head coach of the USHL’s Fargo Force to make the move. He’ll be just the second coach in UNO’s program history, following Mike Kemp, who moved into the school’s athletics administration and helped pick his successor.
“From the beginning of the search process, we identified Dean as someone who could take UNO hockey to the next level,” Nebraska-Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts said in a news release. “We are excited to have someone with his talent and experience leading our hockey program into a new era.”
The next discussion in an active summer for the Mavericks program involves its conference affiliation, and the hiring of Blais could be an indicator.
UNO has been courted by the WCHA as an addition that could allow the league to bring Bemidji State into the fold and round out a 12-team arrangement.
Blais has a long history in the WCHA, starting as a player at Minnesota, then as an assistant and head coach at North Dakota.
But for now, the Mavericks are in the CCHA, and they hope landing a coach as experienced as Blais will help the team rank consistently among the top there.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge of returning to Division I college hockey, particularly in a conference as competitive as the CCHA,” Blais said in the news release. “I’m also looking forward to working with Trev Alberts and Mike Kemp to build on what Mike and his staff have accomplished and make UNO hockey one of the elite programs in the nation.”
An International Falls, Minn., native, Blais won the 1997 and 2000 national championships with North Dakota and saw the Sioux fall to Boston College in overtime in the 2001 final.
He left the Sioux in 2004 to join the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. He later became the first coach and general manager in Fargo, where he led the Force to the USHL finals in their first season.
Kemp, who had a 191-226-54 record in 12 seasons at UNO, will be one of Blais’ supervisors.
“I had the great honor to start Maverick hockey with Don Leahy back in 1996, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to shepherd the program forward with someone who has Dean’s stature in college hockey,” Kemp said in the news release. “He will have a positive impact on the progress that has already been made, and I’m looking forward to a strong and fruitful relationship with Dean and his future staff.”