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USA Hockey names Blais as coach for 2012 WJC

by Mike G. Morreale
Dean Blais said leading the U.S. National Junior Team to a gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was the greatest achievement of his illustrious coaching career.
He'll have an opportunity to equal that feat at the 2012 WJC in Alberta, Canada.
Blais was officially named head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team during a USA Hockey press conference at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday afternoon.
"The main thing that goes through my mind when I think about coaching this team is an opportunity for a lot of young players to go through the tryouts and represent their country," Blais told the media.
"Winning championships at North Dakota was really special and winning the Minnesota high school state championship in Roseau (in 1990) was too, but winning that gold medal was probably the biggest accomplishment," Blais said. "Just because Canada had won five straight gold medals and it was on their home ground. We certainly weren't the favorite to go up there and win that gold medal."
It marks the third time Blais, currently the head coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will be behind the bench for Team USA at the WJC. Blais said the remainder of his coaching staff will be very similar to the one that accompanied him to Saskatoon. USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp will be held Aug. 6-13 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
In addition to his coaching staff, don't think Blais will stray too much in selecting his type of player for the U.S. roster.
"What I liked about our team in 2010 was the speed of the players picked to represent our country and the character and grittiness that we had when we played," Blais said. "I think all the fans in Saskatoon appreciated that our players could make plays like they always have, but we were as quick as anyone in the tournament and made plays at that top speed. Also, those little things … blocking shots and finishing checks, anything that would give you a chance to win a game is what we did."
After leading Team USA to a sixth-place finish at the 1994 WJC in the Czech Republic, Blais was given the reins once again in 2010 in Saskatoon. He'd lead the U.S. to five regulation wins, one overtime victory and one OT loss, capping the tournament with a memorable 6-5 overtime victory over host Canada in the gold-medal contest. It was the second gold won by the U.S. in the WJC and first since 2004 when Mike Eaves was at the helm.
Jim Johannson, General Manager for the 2012 U.S. Junior National Team, said the decision to name Blais coach was an easy one.
"For one, Dean's understanding of the tournament and the type of player he wants to bring is totally in line with what we believe in," Johannson said. "Also, to have the experience he has at the championship, because you cannot control everything that happens with injuries to bad calls or bad bounces in a game, and Dean has the experience to handle those things. He manages a team well and pushes players to earn their ice time."
The hero of that 2010 gold-medal contest, John Carlson, who scored 4:21 into OT to snap the Canadians' five-year reign as champion, was happy to hear the news that his former U.S. National Team coach got the nod.
"He's been around forever and knows what he's talking about," the Washington Capitals defenseman told following his team's morning skate at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Friday. "He has that respect factor. He's won as a coach before and whenever you see a veteran coach, I think everyone in the locker room respects everything he says and does."
Carlson said Blais has just the right touch when it comes to pre-game speeches.
"He's pretty good at that," Carlson said. "I wouldn't say he's one of those over-the-top coaches, but he's definitely into it. He definitely lets his players know what's on his mind."
How would Blais describe his coaching style?
"I used to think I was a players' coach, but I've been told that's not the case anymore," he said with a laugh. "I think we have fun in practice. Once we start, it's execution, so we're not overly analytical. We allow the players some freedom in the offensive zone to make plays. In the defensive zone, we're a little bit more structured, but we're fair and honest with the players. It's not all about X's and O's. You have to play with emotion, confidence and discipline."
The 2012 WJC will run from Dec. 26, 2011 to Jan. 5, 2012 in Calgary and Edmonton. All playoff, relegation and medal games will take place in Calgary. All preliminary-round games for the U.S. will be held in Edmonton.
In addition to serving as head coach for Team USA in 1994 and 2010 at the WJC, Blais was an assistant to Dave Peterson in 1987 (fourth-place finish) and Terry Christensen in 1988 (sixth).
The United States earned the bronze medal at the 2011 WJC in Buffalo under the tutelage of Yale University coach Keith Allain, marking the first time the Americans medaled at the WJC in two successive years.
Blais, a two-time winner of the Spencer Penrose Memorial Award as the Div. I coach of the year, led the University of North Dakota to NCAA Division I titles in 1997 and 2000 and was runner-up in '01. He's also a four-time WCHA coach of the year honoree, including this season when he led the Mavericks to a third-place finish in the league with a 21-13-2 record.
In 19 seasons with North Dakota (nine as assistant, 10 as head coach), he produced 60 NHL draft picks, 28 All-Americans, three WCHA players of the year, four WCHA rookies of the year, 40 members of the All-WCHA team and 11 All-WCHA rookie team selections.
He also served as head coach and general manager of the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League in 2008-09. He was named USHL Coach of the Year and his team was Organization of the Year after helping lead the expansion Force to the Clark Cup Finals, where it dropped a four-game series to the Indiana Ice.
Blais also worked for the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets, serving as an associate coach in 2005-06 and as director of player development in 2006-07.
A native of International Falls, Minn., Blais played college hockey at the University of Minnesota from 1969 to 1973, producing 56 goals and 139 points in 124 games. He was the Gophers' Rookie of the Year in 1970 and an NCAA All-Tournament pick in '71. He played three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks' development team in Dallas.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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