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Blais bolts for Nebraska-Omaha

FARGO - Dean Blais' first year with the Fargo Force was a great one. It was also his last one.

Blais was named head men's hockey coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha on Friday.

"This is quite a thrill for me," Blais said. "... I'm happy to be a Maverick and hopefully we're gonna win a lot of games."

He resigned as coach and general manager of the USHL franchise, but will remain

co-owner of the Force.

"My knowledge is that there is no conflict with the NCAA concerning his being a minority owner," said Andy Leapaldt, the Force's director of business operations. "If something arises, we will definitely address it."

Blais coached one year with the Force, and took the team to the USHL's Clark Cup finals in the team's inaugural season.

He was also named USHL coach of the year, and Fargo was named the league's franchise of the year.

Leapaldt said the USHL team would immediately begin looking for Blais' replacement.

"We're not going to make a rash decision just to bring somebody in here quickly," Leapaldt said. "We have a short list of people we're actively pursuing and we'll go from there."

Blais will assist the Force in its search for its next head coach.

"I have a strong desire to remain involved because I believe in the Fargo Force organization and the United States Hockey League and the direction they are going," Blais said.

From the general manager standpoint, Leapaldt said that he and Todd Berning will continue to handle the day-to-day operations on the franchise's business end.

"We're going to miss Dean, but we're not going to miss a beat on that end," Leapaldt said. "We have to keep going forward."

The position at UNO opened up on May 14, when hockey coach Mike Kemp took the job as UNO's associate athletic director. Kemp was the only coach in the program's history until Friday.

UNO athletic director Trev Alberts said initial talks with Blais fell through, but persistence paid off.

"(Kemp) and I went and had a conversation with coach Blais, and there were a number of things we talked about conceptually," Alberts said. "At that time, after a short conversation, it looked like it was not going to happen, for whatever reason."

After talking with a handful of other candidates, Alberts tried Blais again.

Blais, who was at the Force's training camp June 4-7, said Alberts' second run at him changed his mind.

"It all happened so fast," Blais said. "... I thought that maybe now wasn't the right time. When he called back, I knew it was the right time."

Blais is no stranger to the college game. He was Gino Gasparini's assistant from 1980-89 at the University of North Dakota, and was the head coach of the Fighting Sioux from 1994-2004.

"I was up at (UND) for 19 years, and was pretty lucky to have a great staff and we won a lot of hockey games," Blais said.

As a head coach at UND, he compiled a 216-115-83 record and won two national championships.

He was with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets for three seasons before coming to the Force.

Fargo was 32-23-5 this season, finishing third in the USHL's West Division. But they swept both Omaha and Lincoln on the way to the Clark Cup finals - where they lost to Indiana in four games.

"After coaching in the NHL for three years, I wanted to get back to coaching," Blais said. "... With what I did this year with the Force, it got back to being a lot of fun again."

The opening at UNO following Blais' success in just one year with the Force created an irresistible opportunity for the coach, Leapaldt said.

"When he came here, his intent was to get this franchise off the ground, and he did that - quickly," Leapaldt said. "He accomplished in one year everything we thought could take two or three years.

"This opportunity came up, and he couldn't pass on it. We wish him the best of luck, and he'll always be a part of the Force family."