Dean Blais 'speechless' over U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame selection
Dean Blais spent Tuesday morning reminiscing about his decorated hockey career.
Having just been announced as one of four 2020 inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Blais sat on a Zoom call with Jerry York, Tony Granato and Jenny Potter, the other honorees, and told stories, many of which came from his 19 years at UND.
But one answer, in particular, typified Blais.
He was asked about memorable moments and games in his career. Perhaps, because York was on the call with him, Blais's mind went back to the 2001 NCAA national championship game between his UND team and York's Boston College squad.
UND trailed 2-0 in the third period of that game.
"I wanted to pull our goaltender in the national championship game with eight minutes to go," Blais said. "Eight minutes to go. We didn't. So, at the five-minute mark, I didn't even ask my assistant coaches, we pulled him."
Goalie Karl Goehring left the ice for an extra attacker and UND's Tim Skarperud scored to get one back. Blais pulled Goehring again. UND scored again in the final minute, this time Wes Dorey, to tie it 2-2 and send it to overtime.
The Eagles eventually won it on a Krys Kolanos goal.
"But if we would have pulled him with eight minutes to go," Blais said, "I believe we would have won that championship, Jerry."
During his lengthy hockey coaching career that spanned 41 years and nearly every level -- from high school to juniors to college to the NHL -- Blais relied on his impeccable instincts and motivational ability to repeatedly rise to the top.
He led Roseau High School to a Minnesota state boys hockey title, helped UND to two NCAA national championships as an assistant coach and won two more as UND's head coach. He won at the international level, bringing the U.S. a gold medal at the World Junior Championship. He helped the Fargo Force to the Clark Cup Final in its inaugural season and later guided Nebraska Omaha to its first NCAA Frozen Four.
For all of his accomplishments, Blais will soon be enshrined in Eveleth, Minn., home of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
The 2020 class will be honored alongside the yet-to-be-named 2021 class in December 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Blais recently was told of the news.
"I was up in International Falls at my lake cabin," Blais said. "When I saw the area code 719, I thought it was (USA Hockey media relations director) Dave Fischer fooling around with me. But after this went on for about 30 seconds, they congratulated me, I was overwhelmed and so honored to be selected to the Hall of Fame. I was almost speechless for a little while. Certainly, I'm very, very excited."
Blais, who plans to spend the winter in Arizona with his wife Jackie, spoke fondly about some of his mentors. During his college hockey playing days at Minnesota, his head coaches were Glen Sonmor and Herb Brooks. He was hired as a full-time assistant coach at UND by Gino Gasparini.
"Throughout the years, some of my best buddies are in the game," Blais said. "We talk, maybe not weekly, but I'll get a call from a guy like Mike Hastings, Mark Osiecki, Brad Berry at North Dakota. Hockey is just such a small world, but has such great people you see day in and day out. . . and all of the players. My gosh, the quality of players we've had. . . and the pleasure as a coach to see them come in as freshmen, wide-eyed and not knowing what's going on, and leave three or four years later and still calling and congratulating. I bet you I had 15 phone calls from different players congratulating me into the Hall of Fame."
One of those 'thank yous' was from Berry, who is in his sixth year as UND's head coach. Blais, as an assistant coach, helped recruit Berry to UND as a player. Then, as a head coach, Blais hired Berry as an assistant.
"Congrats Blaiser," Berry wrote on Twitter. "Well deserved. You made a huge impact at North Dakota. Thank you."