ST. PAUL, USA – USA Hockey has named Dean Blais its head coach for the national junior team that will represent the United States in the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship in Calgary and Edmonton, Canada.
The American title defence in the U20 category didn’t work out last winter on home ice in Buffalo, when Team USA lost to Canada in the semi-finals and had to settle with bronze.
Next year, the Americans will not only aim for their third consecutive medal, but they will also seek to claim back gold with their new, old coach behind the bench. Blais, who led the U.S. to gold in the 2010 IIHF World U20 Championship in Saskatoon, Canada, will return after a one-year absence and replace Keith Allain.
The announcement was made on Friday during a press conference at the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It will be Blais’ third stint as a head coach after coaching the U.S. in 1994 and 2010. He was also an assistant coach at the World U20 Championship in 1988 and 1989.
Blais’ long history with USA Hockey includes having represented the U.S. in the 1973 IIHF World Championship B-Pool and having served as an assistant coach in the 1992 Olympic Winter Games and in the 2000 IIHF World Championship.
“I’m extremely honoured to coach this team,” said Blais. “It’s really exciting to see how far hockey has come in our country. We now go into the World Juniors expecting to win and that will be our mind set from the summer camp right through the tournament next December and January in Edmonton and Calgary.”
The 2012 IIHF World U20 Championship takes place in the Canadian province of Alberta, from December 26, 2011 to January 5, 2012.
After this year’s outcome saw Canada win the silver medal and the Americans the bronze, both teams were seeded into the same group – same as in 2010 in Saskatoon when Canada won the North American clash in the preliminary round in a shootout, but the U.S. got revenge in the gold medal game, defeating the host team 6-5 in overtime with John Carlson’s golden goal.
Canada, the United States, Finland, the Czech Republic and Denmark will play in Group B in the 16,839-seat Rexall Place in Edmonton before moving to Calgary’s 19,289-seat Scotiabank Saddledome on New Year’s Day for the final and relegation rounds. It will mark the first time the World U20 Championship will be staged in two NHL arenas.
“It’s terrific to have Dean back behind the bench of our National Junior Team,” said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director for hockey operations at USA Hockey, who will also serve as general manager of the team. “He’s an ideal choice not only because he gets the most out of players, but because of his vast level of experience overall, including at the international level.”
Blais is currently the head coach of the University of Nebraska Omaha’s men’s ice hockey team, a position he has held since June 2009. To date, he has led the Mavericks to a 21-15-2 mark in 2010-11 and last week was named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Coach of the Year. The Mavericks have won 20-plus games in each of the last two seasons.
Blais’ history behind college benches includes a 10-year tenure (1994-2004) at the helm of the University of North Dakota’s men’s ice hockey team, during which time he led the Fighting Sioux to seven NCAA tournament appearances, two NCAA Division I National Championships (1997, 2000), and an overall record of 262-115-33. He also served as an assistant coach at UND from 1980-89 and for the University of Minnesota in 1976-77.
In addition, Blais served as an associate head coach and director of player development of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets from 2004-07; as head coach of the USHL’s Fargo Force in 2008-09; and as head boys’ hockey coach at Minot High School (N.D.) (1977-80), Roseau High School (Minn.) (1989-91) and International Falls (Minn.) High School (1992-94).
Blais played four years of hockey (1969-73) at the University of Minnesota before joining the U.S. Men's National Team in 1973. He began his coaching career after skating three years with the Chicago Blackhawks' minor-league affiliate in Dallas.
Tim Taylor will serve as director of player personnel for the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team, a role he has held since 2010. The remaining staff will be announced at a later date. The USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp will take place Aug. 6-13 in Lake Placid, New York.