Unfortunately in sports, every great story has an ending. Some of the time, those endings can come sooner than expected.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s hockey program had it’s own story come to an end when Dean Blais, the iconic face of UNO hockey, stepped down as head coach of the UNO Mavericks. In a press conference held after the announcement, the former coach expressed his gratitude with Omaha and the university.
“I have been extremely fortunate in my career to work in so many good places with so many people who care about the game of hockey,” Blais said. “Omaha is one of those places.”
That’s high praise from Blais, who has had his share of “hockey towns.” Blais led the Mavs’ most bitter rival North Dakota to two NCAA Division I Championships in 1997 and 2000. He also earned the Spencer Penrose award, which recognizes the Division I Coach of the Year.
After helping make North Dakota the powerhouse it is today, Blais became the head coach at a relatively unknown university that was changing conferences and transitioning into the Division I level. He would eventually go on to lead that same school to its first NCAA Frozen Four, while compiling a 146-133-50 record over eight seasons.
Like it or not, if Blais hadn’t picked UNO, the underdog school that had yet to prove itself, the Mavs’ hockey program would not be the staple of UNO athletics it is today.
Blais took over the Mavericks’ hockey program at a time when all fans had was just hope and optimism. As he departs, he leaves fans’ expectations; expectations that hadn’t existed before Blais’ tenure.
Not only did Blais bring the Omaha program prominence and success, he helped transform Omaha into it’s own college hockey town. UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts cites Blais’ leadership through the transition of building Baxter Arena.
“His considerable experience and knowledge kept the Mavericks in good hands throughout all of that transition,” Albers said.
Any way you look at it, it’s nearly impossible to deny the greatness Blais has brought the Mavericks’ hockey program. Between reaching a Frozen Four and helping create a true “home-ice” environment with the Baxter Arena, Blais racked up quite a resume at UNO, and Alberts agreed.
“For many, that would be a career’s worth of accomplishments, and Dean did that in eight years,” Albers said.
Alberts went on to say that Blais would not be leaving Omaha just yet, as he will be assisting the program to find his replacement.
UNO hockey surely looks vastly different than the last time the Mavs were looking for a new head coach. Although the charismatic smile of Blais won’t be present next season, the program, arena and city he helped bring together will be ready to start a new chapter. Thanks to Blais, Omaha has it’s own reputation and a new standard of hockey.