RALEIGH, N.C. -- Dean Blais stepped down as coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday, a move that sent ripples through the college hockey world.
Blais recently completed his eighth season behind the UNO bench, but got his coaching start at the University of North Dakota, where he spent six seasons as an assistant before eventually taking over as head coach, a position he held for 10 years.
A native of International Falls, Blais played collegiately at the University of Minnesota, but led the then-Fighting Sioux to two national championships in 1997 and 2000 and coached a number players that would go onto productive NHL careers.
One of those players was Wild forward Zach Parise, who played for Blais in each of his two seasons at UND.
"He was one of the big reasons why I wanted to go there. I heard a lot of good things about him as a coach," Parise said. "He made you work. I think he instilled a lot of work ethic in the players that, I think even to this day, has stuck as almost part of the tradition there, with the style of play and how hard the guys work. I wanted to be a part of that. I really enjoyed playing for him.
"He was hard at the right times, he was joking around, personable. But he demanded work and demanded you play hard. And if you did that, you were on his good side."
Parise, who has developed a reputation as one of the NHL's most tenacious players, is one of 17 North Dakota alums currently playing in the League (20 have appeared in an NHL game this season). Most of those players, including Washington's T.J. Oshie and Chicago's Jonathan Toews, played for current Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol, who succeeded Blais at UND in 2004.
Like Parise, Oshie and Toews, as well as a vast majority of the players to come from that program, play a very blue-collar style game.
It's part of the culture coached into them at North Dakota, a culture Blais embraced and was continued by Hakstol (a Blais assistant) and current coach Brad Berry (a Hakstol assistant).
"There's just that style of play, when you think of North Dakota," Parise said. "You think of a team that's hard to play against, you think of a team that works and plays hard. However many years before I got there until however long I've been gone, nothing has changed. You have to attribute that to Coach Blais."