BOSTON — Dean Blais coached North Dakota to two national championships (1997, 2000), inviting comparisons inevitable between this Omaha squad and the teams Blais coached at UND, but it’s not something the coach himself encourages.
“I really don’t do that,” said Blais. “We don’t talk about North Dakota all that much. We have at some point, and it’s usually, ‘This is how we win,’ and, ‘Here’s what we do’ kind of thing, but we try to just have our own identity.”
There is one point of comparison, however, that Blais thinks is worth discussing, and that’s the element of surprise that both the North Dakota team he coached to a title in Milwaukee in 1997 possessed and this year’s Mavericks.
In 1997, UND was loaded with underclassmen and wasn’t expected to get past Michigan in its semifinal game, let alone beat Boston University for a national championship. The top seven scorers on this year’s UNO team are freshmen and sophomores; eight freshmen and five sophomores play regularly for the Mavericks this season.
“Yeah, that’s a good comparison because I can recall those sophomores that were on the team [in 1997],” said Blais. “Jason Blake and [David] Hoogsteen, Ian Kallay were all sophomores.” Hoogsteen and Kallay no longer play, but Blake has spent 14 of the last 16 seasons in the NHL, the last three with the Anaheim Ducks.
“We had 10 of them,” said Blais, “and this team is similar with now about 10 freshmen and eight sophomores, whatever that may be. I don’t even keep track … but certainly a young team that has done great things, and that ’97 team, when they graduated, they were better as juniors and even better as seniors and didn’t win. They won when they all graduated the following year.
“So you never know when this can happen. But certainly this program is kind of at that point right now where we’re ready to go.”
And ready they are. The Mavericks’ 4-1 win over Harvard in the Midwest Regional in South Bend on March 28 was UNO’s first-ever NCAA win. The team followed that up with a 4-0 win over Rochester Institute of Technology to secure a Frozen Four spot.
Blais said that this team deserves credit for being cohesive and disciplined, and that good things are resulting from what his upperclassmen have accomplished.
“They’ve paved the way,” he said. “Obviously we’re stepping in a brand-new arena next year [and] that wouldn’t have happened without these guys.
“Without winning, you can advertise, promote, do whatever you want in the community, and not much happens. But when you start winning, we’ve gotten unbelievable media attention this last month, and not necessarily getting here, but everything that led up to this. It’s kind of like we’ve arrived.”