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New coaches bring experienced views to new jobs

by James Murphy
There are four new coaches in NCAA Division I hockey this season. Longtime North Dakota coach and two-time national champion Dean Blais is back behind the bench at the University of Nebraska-Omaha after a five-year hiatus from the college game; Dennis Williams, whose team will face Blais and the Mavericks in a two-game set at Omaha this weekend, has taken over as coach for his alma mater, Bowling Green; Brendan Whittet is the coach for his alma mater, Brown University after 11 seasons as an assistant at Dartmouth; and after 13 seasons as an assistant at Yale, C.J. Marottolo has his first stint as a head coach, at Sacred Heart.

Blais back where he belongs -- After serving as an associate coach and working in player development with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2004-07, Dean Blais was the GM and coach of the Fargo Force of the USHL the last two seasons. Despite being close to home and family in Fargo, Blais, who in 10 seasons at North Dakota won two national titles, was a runner-up once and took his team to seven Frozen Fours, missed the college ranks too much to pass up the Mavericks' job opening when it arose.

"I saw it as an opportunity to get back into the college game and with a program that is competing in the CCHA this year and the WCHA next year," said Blais who obviously is looking forward to facing his former team when the Mavericks begin play in the WCHA in 2010-11.

"My best time of the day is when I step on the ice for practice. I like that better than games," Blais said. "Games are fun, but practice and seeing the kids improve is what it's all about. That's maybe one of the reasons I didn't like the NHL because there's so many games and so much travel, it's a different lifestyle and you put everything into hockey. But at 58-years-old, there's more than hockey and family is certainly part of it."

Blais was comfortable in Fargo, but he is starting to feel at home in Omaha and especially behind the bench of a college squad.

"It takes a while to get settled in," he said. "It happened a lot faster than I expected. I wasn't really looking for another job because I was happy in Fargo. I had my folks and family there and it took a little bit of convincing and thought to take the job, but I'm certainly glad I did because it seems to be a good fit for me right now."

While Blais loves to teach, he doesn't mind the fact that he inherited an experienced team in Omaha. The Mavericks are off to a good start this season and Blais alluded to the leadership core as one of the reasons.

"We have a highly motivated group of players here," Blais said. "They have high expectations and work hard every day. We haven't had a lot of adversity yet, we're 3-0-1 and we've had a lot of games where we out-shot the other team. So we try to stick to fundamentals and stay on top of our game. We also have a good group of leaders with six seniors and six juniors, so it's not like we're a young group. We have enough experience to know what it takes to do something in the league."

Williams trying to restore Falcons' pride -- Last spring Bowling Green wasn't even sure if it would have a hockey program, let alone a new coach. But after the program avoided some cost-cutting moves by the school, Falcons hockey is looking toward the future, and proud alum Dennis Williams is ready to lead them. Williams took over for Scott Paluch, who coached Bowling Green for the last seven seasons and whom Williams worked with as an assistant last season.

Williams has always dreamed of returning to Bowling Green and the opportunity to help revive the program is a welcomed challenge.

"As an alumni of Bowling Green, it's something that when I got into coaching about eight years ago, to be a Division I head coach, and even more so at Bowling Green, was a dream of mine, so when the opportunity arose after being an assistant last year under coach Paluch, I couldn't turn that down," Williams said.

"With everything that went on last year with our program, knowing the players returning and being familiar with the players coming in, I thought it was important that I take this job and blend everyone together, work toward a common goal, move up the standings and be the best we can be here."

Williams wants to help the players forget the turmoil of the recent past and enjoy lacing up the skates again.

"I really want to incorporate coming to the rink and having fun again," Williams said. "It's been a tough couple of years in terms of wins and losses and we want to get it where guys are excited coming to the rink and playing. We're all hockey players and that should be their best few hours of the day."

But while he is trying to help them forget the recent bad times, he wants them to appreciate those who came before them at Bowling Green and to take pride in the program.

"We're showing that sense of discipline and that sense of unity coming together as a team and really wanting to play for that falcon head and what the tradition has been here," Williams said. "Bowling Green is such a close-knit community, and you play not only for your team and the school, but the town, the community and all the alumni that have supported us. It's a really neat niche and that's what I'm trying to incorporate here, the tradition we have here. Putting that Falcon jersey on is a great honor and it's not a right. You have to work for hard for that and work hard to be in the lineup."

Whittet not afraid to set high standards -- When Brendan Whittet played for Brown from 1990-94, playing for a national championship and winning Ivy League championships weren't uncommon or looked at as unattainable. That's why when he was hired as coach at the school, he wasn't afraid to set such accomplishments as real goals for the program.

"Our goals are to win a national championship, and I know people may think I'm crazy when I mention that, but Brown University is about excellence on the academic side and the hockey side is going to be excellent, too," said Whittet, who also is a native of North Providence. "So yes, our goal is a national championship and hopefully along the way a couple more league championships. It's going to take a lot of work and we're ready for it."

To get his team striving toward those goals, Whittet knows he needs to establish a hard-working and winning culture at Brown.

"We're trying to establish a culture and what we want our program to be based on and what we want our players to be about," Whittet said. "The No. 1 thing I want to control is control the controllable. So I want our guys to be the hardest-working guys in Division I hockey, I want them to be in unbelievable shape where we can play an up-tempo game, get in people's faces and win puck battles. So in the short-term I am trying to establish the things that are going to allow us that sustained success."

To build this winning atmosphere, Whittet realizes he needs to bring in winners, or those who strive to succeed not only on the ice but in the classroom and in life. That's why he is utilizing what Brown University as a whole has to offer to potential student-athletes.

"This will go hand-in-hand with recruiting, as well," Whittet said of re-building the program. "I want guys that want to play in the NHL and have that as a goal. Along the way, I want them to understand the education they will get at Brown is second to none. Everybody will have to hang them up sometime and the degree they get at Brown will open doors and allow them to do what they want to do after hockey."

Marottolo didn’t have to move to realize his dream -- C.J. Marottolo is a native of North Haven, Conn., and has been an assistant coach at Yale University for the last 13 seasons. He was passed up for the head coaching position there three seasons ago when Yale decided to hire Keith Allain, but he remained on the staff, choosing to remain close to home. Still, he knew the day would come when he may have a chance at his dream of being a coach, but that it could require moving. So when the job at Sacred Heart opened, he didn't hesitate to throw his name in the mix.

"When the opportunity arose at Sacred Heart, it just seemed like a no-brainer," Marottolo said. "A Division I program, and those jobs are hard to get, plus it's in my backyard and I didn't have to move my family which is something that is important to me."

What also is important to Marottolo is that he immediately turns around a program that is only two seasons removed from a 21-win season. Marottolo sees Sacred Heart as a program on the rise and is happy to help them get back where he believes they belong.

"I respect what Shaun Hannah, Lou Santini and Dan Muse have done for years with this program and I think it's an emerging Division I hockey program," he said. "The support here at Sacred Heart to the hockey program has been terrific and I'm excited about where this program can go."

In order to get there, Marottolo has told his players that what they have done in the past, positive or negative, now is irrelevant. He only cares what they can do going forward and if they want to play, it better involve a strong work ethic.

"I came in and I told the guys I'm not watching any video on any of you guys and how you played last year and each and every one of you are going to have to prove to me that you deserve to be in the lineup," said Marottolo. "All the players are going to have to write their own stories. I'm not going off what they did last year or who played and who didn't."

The Pioneers are off to a 2-1-0 start and Marottolo has liked the way they responded to his guidelines.

"I think it's refreshing for them, and I think any time there is a change, there's a new jump in their game," he said. "We're moving forward and I'm happy to be here."

On Campus Clips
-- Denver junior goaltender Marc Cheverie has been named National Player of the Week by Inside College Hockey and Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week for October 26-November 1. The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native helped the Pioneers sweep a two-game set at Minnesota with two shutouts. He has three-straight shutouts and has not allowed a goal in 203:19, which ranks second all-time at Denver. He is 5:24 shy of breaking Peter Mannino's school record of 208:42, set in 2005. Cheverie is 4-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage this season. He's first in the nation in shutouts (three), tied for first in wins, is second in save percentage and is fourth in GAA. ...  Boston University junior center Nick Bonino will miss at least 3-4 weeks after dislocating his right shoulder in the first period of the Terriers' 3-2 win against Michigan last Saturday. ...  Michigan State junior forward Corey Tropp was named CCHA Player Of The Week after helping his team knock off then-No. 1 Miami with a goal and an assist in the Spartans' 3-2 overtime win last Saturday. Tropp, the nation's leading scorer with 12 points, also had an assist in a 2-1 loss to Miami Friday. ...  Key games this weekend include: Ohio State at Notre Dame Friday and Saturday; Boston University at UMass-Lowell Friday; UMass-Lowell at Boston University Saturday; Alaska Anchorage at Minnesota Friday and Sunday; Bemidji State at Alabama-Huntsville Saturday and Sunday.

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