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Schlossman: Wins and losses don't tell complete story about Dean Blais

Fargo Force coach Dean Blais talks to one of the players during the 2008 home opener at Urban Plains Center, now Scheels Arena, in Fargo. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS—Dean Blais stepped down as head coach at Nebraska Omaha on Tuesday, ending an eight-year run with the school.

He didn't term it a "retirement." Just a resignation.

Blais said he's probably not done with the sport yet. He may coach his grandchildren. But if this is, indeed, the end of his 31-year association with college hockey, it will be the sport's loss.

While today's stories about Blais will all list the wins and losses on the ice—he won two national championships and five MacNaughton Cups at North Dakota and led Omaha to a Frozen Four—Blais was about so much more than that.

He was an entertainer, a developer and a mentor.

It's often forgotten that sports are still an entertainment business—and few have been as entertaining as Blais.

You never knew what you were going to see from night to night.

He pulled his goaltender with 11 minutes, 30 seconds left in a game against UND this season. And that wasn't considered weird for him.

His team scored six goals a whopping six times this season—and even lost one of those games.

He has scratched a goalie one night after the same goalie posted a shutout.

He operated on gut feeling. And many times his instincts were right.

None was more famous than the 2001 national championship game.

Blais pulled goalie Karl Goehring with about five minutes left, down 2-0, against Boston College. UND rallied to tie the game with two extra-attacker goals. Although UND ended up losing that game, the legend was born.

Sometimes, his gambling style paid off.

Other times, it backfired.

But how many times did you leave a Dean Blais-coached hockey game not entertained?

Blais also set up every place he's gone for success in the future.

While he was at UND, his teams helped influence Ralph Engelstad to build an opulent new arena worth $104 million. It has been a boon for the city and the men's hockey program, which won its eighth NCAA national championship in the spring.

While he was with the Fargo Force, the new Scheels Arena was built in south Fargo. It's also a great tool to attract hockey players in Fargo.

At Omaha, the school opened the new Baxter Arena last season.

No, Blais didn't build or fund the arenas himself, but it's not a coincidence that everywhere he went, it got done.

And perhaps Blais's greatest legacy will be the way he not only mentored players but also influenced so many of them to get in the coaching business himself.

The list of coaches who played under Blais is staggering: Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, Dallas Stars assistant coach James Patrick, Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin and assistant coach Jason Herter, Fargo Force coach Cary Eades, Lindenwood University coach Rick Zombo, East Grand Forks Senior High boys coach Scott Koberinski and Grand Forks Central boys coach Grant Paranica and Warroad girls coach David Marvin.

Many others have coached and stepped away: Steve Johnson, Jim Archibald, Tony Hrkac, Jeff Bowen, Tarek Howard, Tyler Palmiscno, Toby Kvalevog, Dane Litke, Lee Goren and the list goes on and on.

It has been 13 years since Blais stepped down at UND and eight years since he left Fargo, but his work at both places is still making an impact today.

In Fargo, his successors have been Johnson, Herter, John Marks and Eades—all people who Blais either coached or coached alongside.

In Grand Forks, the last two assistant coach hires Blais made were Dave Hakstol and Brad Berry.

Hakstol succeeded him and led UND to seven NCAA Frozen Fours in 11 years, building the program in ways similar to Blais—always pushing for renovations, increased TV exposure and other items.

Berry succeeded Hakstol and led the program to a national title in his first year at the helm.

If this is farewell, college hockey will miss Blais and all the entertainment he provided—the gut-instinct coaching, the frequent pulling of the goalies, the off-the-wall and no-filter quotes. There aren't many like him anymore.

But behind the scenes in Omaha, Fargo and Grand Forks, his influence will exist long into the future.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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