Here’s a Wednesday Omaha World Herald story on International Falls native Dean Blais, after the completion of his first season at Nebraska Omaha, getting a contract extension. The story addresses rumors that Blais had been identified as the next coach at Minnesota, replacing Don Lucia. Look for Dean in the WCHA in 2010-11 when Omaha finishes the regular season at the DECC:
Dean Blais isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
Nor is Trev Alberts.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha on Wednesday aimed to make that message loud and clear as it announced multiyear job extensions for both Blais and Alberts — who each now will be under contract at the school until 2015.
Alberts, 39, hired as UNO’s athletic director last April, agreed in principle on a three-year extension. In his 11 months leading the Mavs, Alberts has promoted original UNO hockey coach Mike Kemp to associate athletic director, hired Blais to take over for Kemp on the Mavs’ bench and spearheaded UNO’s impending league switch from the CCHA to the WCHA.
Blais, 59, won two NCAA championships while at North Dakota. He guided Team USA to a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships, and his first team at UNO finished 20-16-6.
“I think this provides tremendous stability to our athletic department,” said UNO Chancellor John Christensen. The Mavericks’ 2009-10 hockey season ended when they were swept in the second round of the CCHA playoffs at Ferris State. But they closed out the regular season by going 8-3-1 for the program’s first 20-win season since 2005-06.
Their dramatic late-season run included their first sweep over Michigan and a series split at then-No. 1 Miami — UNO’s first victory over a top-ranked team in nine years. The Mavericks were 8-7-0 against teams that made the NCAA tournament, and UNO ranked fourth in the country with an average home attendance of 6,866.
In June, Blais signed a four-year deal with the Mavs that pays him $250,000 per season. The two-year extension also will pay Blais $250,000 annually, a school official said.
“Me and my wife Jackie came here less than 10 months ago and weren’t sure what Omaha was all about,” Blais said. “We didn’t know what kind of community this would be, but we found out this is going to be our home. Instead of renting an apartment, we’ll now hopefully buy a house. We just love the athletic staff — all the coaches — so this is going to be our home.”
In recent weeks, rumors swirled in the Twin Cities that the University of Minnesota was targeting Blais as its top candidate to take over for embattled Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia.
But in Monday’s editions of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minnesota A.D. Joel Maturi reiterated his stance that Lucia was not in danger of losing his job. Maturi also refuted speculation that he had contacted Blais, who played for the Gophers in the 1970s, to gauge his interest in coaching at Minnesota.
Wednesday, Alberts said that UNO’s desire to lock up Blais until 2015 was less about dissuading potential suitors and more about rewarding the coach for all he accomplished during his first season leading the Mavs. Alberts added that having Blais signed for the next five seasons will let recruits know that the coach plans on being in Omaha for the duration of their college careers.
“This is less about a defensive move and more about a recognition of the great success that coach has had with (assistant coaches) Mike Hastings and Nick Fohr and the rest of our staff,” Alberts said.
“All along, our intent was to take our program to another level. We think this contract extension brings that sort of stability to us and allows us to compete at the highest level.”
Christensen, Alberts and Blais also addressed UNO’s desire to build an on-campus hockey arena.
While there’s nothing new to report, Christensen said, the school continues to pursue a “university-community partnership” that would allow the Mavs to build new facilities for hockey and their other programs.
“I’m taking the notion of creating a home for UNO athletics — not only hockey, but baseball and softball and soccer — very, very seriously,” Christensen said. “I think there are people in the community who also are thinking about this very seriously. So we are going to continue to work and explore every possibility.”