Blais Gets 11th Hour Deal

North Dakota beat the clock on Dean Blais’ deadline for a contract extension, and the Sioux coach now has a deal that runs through the 2006-07 season.

Blais, who set a July 1 deadline for the school to give him an extension or see him leave when his current contract expires after the 2003-04 season, had three years added to his contract with the Sioux.

“I’m happy that entering the last year of my [old] contract with UND, this won’t be my last year of coaching here,” Blais told the Grand Forks Herald. “It means that for all the players coming in this season, I’ll be around all four years they’re here.”

Blais, who has the highest winning percentage (.669) among active Division I coaches, and UND officials agreed on the deal last week.

He told the paper the contract provides a financial arrangement similar to Minnesota coach Don Lucia, who has an escalating contract that, by the final year of 2009, will pay him $200,000 in base salary, plus incentives.

Blais, 52, became North Dakota’s coach in 1994, leaving the coaching position at his alma mater, International Falls (Minn.) High School. In 1999, he was a candidate for the head coaching job at Minnesota, where he played collegiately, but accepted his current five-year contract that is scheduled to pay him a $500,000 annuity at its completion at the end of next season.

He was an assistant to longtime UND coach Gino Gasparini from 1980 to 1989. As the Sioux’s head coach, he has won two national championships (1997 and 2000) and four WCHA regular-season titles, including a three-peat from 1997 to 1999.

He also has overseen the program’s transition to a new arena, 11,800-seat Ralph Engelstad Arena, funded by its namesake at a cost of over $100 million. The arena led the nation in attendance last season, drawing 256,591 fans.