In a hockey life spanning some six decades, Dean Blais (International Falls, Minn.) cut a wide trail of lofty accomplishments through every level of the game.
He is one of America’s most accomplished coaches, with his 40-year career behind the bench highlighted by leading teams to signature moments at the high school, junior and collegiate levels as well as on the international stage. While perhaps lesser known, his playing days included championships at the University of Minnesota, a brief stint in professional hockey and selection to the 1973 U.S. Men’s National Team.
Blais is perhaps most widely associated as a coach for the University of North Dakota, where he spent 19 seasons. He was head coach of the Fighting Sioux program for 10 seasons (1994-2004) where he led UND to two NCAA titles (1997, 2000), seven NCAA tournament appearances, including three Frozen Fours; four Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles and two WCHA playoff championships. In his 10 seasons, Blais finished with a 262-115-33 record. And during his nine campaigns (1980-89) as an assistant coach with UND, he helped the team to a pair of national titles (1982, 1987) and a third-place finish in the 1984 NCAA Championship.
He earned the Spencer Penrose Award as the top men’s collegiate coach on two occasions (1997, 2001), along with being awarded seven other Coach of the Year honors from the WCHA, the American College Hockey Coaches Association, the MSC Sports Salute Gala, and the Associated Press.
While at UND, Blais also played a major role in the development of the Ralph Engelstad Arena that opened in 2001 and is still regarded as one of the best hockey arenas in the world.
Blais finished his coaching career coacher with an eight-year stint as head coach of the University of Nebraska Omaha men’s ice hockey team where he led the program to its first-ever NCAA Frozen Four appearance in 2015 and two NCAA Tournament berths overall. He finished with a 146-133-30 mark at UNO and is the school’s all-time winningest coach.
In his 18-year run as a college head coach, Blais finished with a mark of 407-246-84 and 14 winning seasons.
Blais also thrived as a high school coach. In his two-year stint (1989-91) as head coach for the storied Roseau High School boys hockey program, he led the Rams to the Minnesota State High School League championship in 1990, a year he was honored as the state’s hockey coach of the year. The following season he guided the team to conference and regional championships. He moved to serve as athletic director and head boys hockey coach in his hometown of International Falls (Minn.) for two years (1992-94) where he led the Broncos to a conference title in 1993. His first-ever head-coaching job was a three-year stint (1977-80) leading the Minot (N.D.) High School boys hockey program where he coached conference champions and state tournament participants in both 1979 and 1980.
Serving as an assistant coach for one season (1976-77) for the University of Minnesota men’s ice hockey team was Blais’ first-ever coaching stop and his career also included three years with the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets (2004-07) and two seasons as general manager and head coach for the USHL’s Fargo (N.D.) Force, where he guided the team to the Clark Cup Final in 2009 and was named the USHL Coach of the Year.
One the international stage, Blais led the U.S. to its first-ever gold medal on Canadian soil in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship, also served as head coach for U.S. entries in the World Junior Championship in 1994 and 2012, and was an assistant coach for Team USA in the event in both 1988 and 1989. In addition, he served as an assistant coach for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team and the 2000 U.S. Men’s National Team.
As a player, Blais spent four seasons (1969-73) as a forward at the University of Minnesota and helped the Golden Gophers capture the 1970 WCHA regular-season championship, before earning the league’s playoff crown the following season and advancing to the NCAA title game. He averaged better than a point a game in his collegiate career, finishing with 139 points (56G, 83A) in 124 games. Following his senior campaign, he was selected to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 1973 IIHF Men’s World Championship. Blais then spent the next three years (1973-76) with the Chicago Blackhawks minor league team in Dallas before embarking on his coaching career.