An Op/Ed piece
As a UND fan, an Omaha resident, and an occasional patron of the Baxter Arena (CenturyLink Center before Baxter), the news of Blais’ retirement comes as no surprise to me nor any of the hockey loving crowd that I converse with down here in Nebraska.
When Blais came to UNO eight years ago, there was a ton of excitement (and some relief to be honest as some do not seem to have high regard for Kemp as a head coach anyways). It was felt that UNO stole a high quality high-qualityho can lead them all the way to the promised land. He nearly did.
Sadly, the last two years have not been good for Blais and rumors started flying about the same time the 2016 season ended for UNO. There was a lot of negativity, though most of it was a sort of depression, much like watching a former superstar fighter try to fight a person half his age and twice his speed and ability. However, I’m not so sure that the problems with UNO’s program can be laid squarely on Blais.
As my memory recalls, Coach Blais signed on with UNO with the understanding that it would be for 5 years. If this was, in fact, true, then we are 3 years beyond the termination of that agreement. 2013-2014 wasn’t a great year for Blais, he finished 3rd and lost in the first round of the NCHC tourney. It was the year before Blais took UNO to the Frozen Four. However, I think this was the year UNO failed Coach Blais.
As to what I think, as an armchair GM/AD with perfect 20/20 hindsight, what UNO should have done is, when the 5 year commitment expired, UNO should have made sure that whomever was to take over for Blais was already on staff. This did not happen.
So what happens now is a lot of guesswork from those of us not sitting in the UNO Athletic Department. I think the return of someone like Mike Guentzel is quite possible. UNO could maybe even snag Mike Hastings away from Mankato much like I expect Michigan to snag Mel Pearson away from Michigan Tech whenever Berenson retires (or dies of old age).
His assistants in 2013-14 were Troy Jutting and Alex Todd. Neither were (nor are) viable candidates to replace Blais then or now. His current assistants are Mike Gabinet, who is a UNO alum and former head coach of a Canadian college, and Leigh Mendelson, who has a long list of coaching accolades everywhere but in the NCAA and the NHL.
As I say this, the articles I’ve read on Blais state that there is an internal candidate the University is considering. I can only assume that this is Gabinet. I believe that this is HIGHLY unlikely to be Blais’ successor, unless mediocrity is something that Kemp and company wish to return to. Kemp was mediocre at best as a head coach with UNO, so…
Blais will take a part in finding his replacement, but I think the candidates I feel might throw their names into the hat are:
- Cary Eades – currently the head coach of the Fargo Force of the USHL. Lots of NCAA experience, has won it all with Sioux Falls of the USHL. Former Assistant Head Coach under Blais at UND.
- Seth Appelt – currently unemployed. Former Associate head coach Denver. Former head coach with RPI. Lots of international experience and NCAA experience. Might not be an upgrade from Blais, though.
- Scott Owens – Currently the head coach of Sioux Falls of the USHL. Most WCHA fans know who he is.
- Mike Guentzel – Currently Associate head coach of UMN. Former Assistant head coach at UNO under Blais and former head coach/GM of Des Moines of the USHL.
- Brett Larson or Jason Herter – Currently assistants with UMD. Both have been around.
- Geoge Gwozdecky – Ok, dark horse here. I have absolutely no idea if he even cares about coaching in the NCAA again. I’d just love to see him return to the NCHC. Wikipedia lists his current job as a high school hockey coach in Colorado.
- Mike Hastings – Current MSU Mankato head coach. UND Beat Writer Brad Schlossman already has dropped his name as a potential candidate… not that he’s applied. He would be a good fit in Omaha, though.
- True out of left field dark horse candidates – For example: Frank Serratore (Air Force), Tom Serratore (Bemidji State).
All in all, I have no idea what will happen going forward, but UNO is in a bit of trouble as far as talent pool is concerned (especially when it comes to D and goaltending) and whomever UNO gets to be the coach will have to be a swell recruiter. My hope is Eades or Guentzel. My dream is Gwozdecky. I don’t think UNO would thrive under Gabinet.