ST. PAUL, Minn. — USA Hockey is turning to one of its golden World Junior Championship coaches to lead the 2012 team.
Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais will take charge of the U.S. team in hopes of bringing home a second gold medal from the tournament in three years.
In 2010, Blais led the Americans to the championship in Canada. The 2012 tournament also will be on Canadian soil, in Calgary and Edmonton.
The similarities will undoubtedly lead to high expectations, but Blais and USA Hockey personnel are happy to hear that.
“The players will be different but the attitudes will be the same,” Blais said. “We’re there to be successful. We’re not there to be intimidated. We’re not there to put on a show. We’re there to play hockey and try to win a medal.”
Blais is expecting to bring the same coaching staff to Alberta, and the team again will be led by general manager Jim Johannson.
“We go into these championships expecting to win, but we have a great appreciation of our opponents and we also have a great appreciation for everything it takes to win this championship,” Johannson said. “It’s OK to have swagger, but you’ve got to back it up on the ice.”
The Americans won the bronze medal under Yale coach Keith Allain this season, marking the first back-to-back medals for the U.S. in tournament history.
The U.S. also won the 2004 tournament under Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
Blais is in a holding pattern with his Nebraska-Omaha team, which is practicing back home while it awaits its NCAA tournament fate.
He’ll have to leave his Mavericks team for a few weeks over the winter break to lead the Americans. Assistants Mike Guentzel and Mike Hastings will lead UNO in that period, Blais said.
Johannson said USA Hockey was looking for a coach that was familiar with the tournament, had a past record of success and could understand coaching the players that can compete in the under-20 tournament.
Blais hit the mark on all, he said.
“To have the experience that he has at the championship, because you cannot control everything that happens, from injuries to bad calls to bad bounces in the game. Dean’s got the experience to handle all of those things,” Johannson said. “And he manages a team during this event where kids have to earn their ice time.”
Blais said he ranks the 2010 gold above his national championships at North Dakota and his Minnesota high school titles at Roseau in his coaching accomplishments.
“There’s nothing like being there on the ice when that flag is raised at the end of the game and your national anthem is played,” Blais said. “That final game, when we won the gold medal, to look up and see the United States flag right in the middle, between Canada and Sweden, was something I’ll never forget. It’s fun.”