Friday, June 26, 2009

WCHA to Add Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha

In a move predicted in our previous post, the WCHA will admit Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha, the Duluth News Tribune reports. The newspaper is reporting that the Beavers and Mavericks will be the 11th and 12th WCHA teams, beginning with the 2010-11 season, one year earlier than expected.

This development comes just two weeks after UNO hired former University of North Dakota head coach Dean Blais as the Mavericks' new bench boss. Sources told Let's Play Hockey that part of Blais' negotiations with UNO centered around the Mavericks accepting the WCHA's offer to switch conferences from the CCHA.

The WCHA has scheduled a media teleconference for 5 p.m., (CT) today.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blais to be Named New UNO Head Coach, Switch to WCHA Expected

Former University of North Dakota head coach and current Fargo Force (USHL) head coach and GM Dean Blais will be named the new head coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha at a 2 p.m., press conference today (link).

Sources tell Let's Play Hockey that as a part of Blais' negotiations with UNO for the position, the Mavericks will accept the WCHA's offer to switch conferences from the CCHA. The earliest UNO could join the WCHA would be in 2011-12, giving the league 12 teams with the expected addition of Bemidji State.

A native of International Falls, Blais played college hockey at the University of Minnesota, followed by a three-year pro career with the Dallas Black Hawks (CHL). He returned to the U in 1976-77 as an assistant coach before becoming the head coach at Minot High School from 1977-80. Blais then spent eight seasons as an assistant coach at North Dakota. From 1990-94, Blais returned to high school hockey as head coach of Roseau (1990-91) and International Falls (1992-94).

Blais went back to Grand Forks as head coach in 1994, staying in that position until 2004. During his time with the Fighting Sioux, Blais helped UND to a pair of NCAA titles (1997, 2000) and five WCHA championships, while compiling an overall record of 262-115-33.

In 2004, Blais left the college ranks to become an associate coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets for two seasons. He then spent one season in player development with the NHL franchise. Since 2007, Blais has been the head coach and general manager for the USHL's newest team, the Fargo Force. Blais helped the Force to a runnner-up finish in the USHL's Clark Cup finals in the team's first year of competition.

He left North Dakota for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, for whom he worked in player development and as associate head coach. He then returned to North Dakota and spent last year as the head coach and general manager of the Fargo Force, the United States Hockey League expansion team that beat the Omaha Lancers in the playoffs and reached the Clark Cup finals.

Blais is set to replace longtime UNO head coach Mike Kemp who was promoted to associate athletic director under new athletic director Trev Alberts.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Todd Richards to be Named New Wild Head Coach

Sources are telling Let's Play Hockey that former Golden Gopher and NHL defenseman, and current San Jose Sharks assistant coach Todd Richards will likely be named the new Minnesota Wild head coach in the near future. A native of Crystal, Minn., and considered an up-and-coming young coach, Richards was the head coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins when current Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was an assistant GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Clearly, Fletcher's familiarity and comfort level with Richards played a major role in the decision on who best to replace Jacques Lemaire behind the Wild bench. Since the hiring of Fletcher as GM, Richards was considered the frontrunner for the Wild head coach position.

Assistant coach Matt Shaw and goaltending coach Bob Mason are expected to be back for the 2009-10 season. As reported, assistant coach Mario Tremblay will not be part of the new coaching staff. It's unclear at this time if assistant coach Mike Ramsey will be behind the Wild bench for his 10th season.

Richards bio from the San Jose Sharks:

Todd Richards just completed his first season as a National Hockey League assistant coach and his first season working with Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan. In his new role, Richards will be in charge of the power play and work with McLellan on forward lines and matchups.

Richards spent the last two seasons as head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League where he led the team to a berth in the Calder Cup Finals last season after winning the AHL’s East Division regular season title.

Richards ended his stint with the Baby Pens ranked first in franchise history with 98 wins (51 in 2006-07 and 47 in 2007-08) and in winning percentage (.653, 209 of 320 points). He also was named head coach of the PlanetUSA Team at the 2007 Rbk Hockey/AHL All-Star Classic in Toronto, leading his team to a 7-6 victory over the Canadian squad.

Before Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Richards served as an assistant coach (2002-06) with the Milwaukee Admirals. During his time in Milwaukee, the Admirals won two West Division titles (2003-04 and 2005-06) and made two trips to the Calder Cup Finals, winning the AHL title in 2003-04.

A former defenseman, Richards captured several other championships throughout his career, including a pair of Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Championships with the University of Minnesota (1988 and 1989), the 1991 Calder Cup with Springfield, the 2001 Turner Cup (International Hockey League) in Orlando, and he even brought home a Swiss-B League title with Servette Geneve in 2002.

Richards was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round (33rd overall) of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft and made his NHL debut with the Hartford Whalers in 1990-91, playing eight games over the next two seasons and posting four assists. He also appeared in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Hartford, adding three assists.

During his four seasons at the University of Minnesota, he was named a member of the WCHA Second All-Star Team for three consecutive seasons (1986-87, 1987-88 and 1988-89) and was team captain during his senior season.

Following his stints in the Montreal and Hartford organizations, the native of Crystal, Minn. joined the IHL’s Las Vegas Thunder and was named the league’s top defender in 1994-95. He spent the next six seasons with the Orlando Solar Bears, captaining the squad for four seasons and winning the IHL Championship in 2000-01, the league’s final year of existence.

Richards concluded his playing career with Servette Geneve of Switzerland in 2001-02, where he was he was also named the league’s top defenseman.

Richards and his wife Maryann have two sons: Zachary and Justin.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Wild Coach Candidate: Don Jackson

From all reports, new Minnesota Wild GM has begun narrowing his search for Jacques Lemaire's replacement as Wild head coach. Reportedly, former Gopher and current San Jose assistant Todd Richards is the frontrunner for the job. Other candidates mentioned have included Pierre Page, Craig MacTavish, Peter Laviolette, Newell Brown, Paul MacLean, Kevin Constantine, Mario Tremblay, John Torchetti, Kevin Dineen and Scott Arniel.

Not mentioned yet, but who seems to be a viable and qualified candidate is former Minnesota North Star and two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Edmonton Oilers Don Jackson. After a 10-year NHL and CHL playing career as a defenseman (315 career NHL games, 16 goals, 52 assists, 640 penalty minutes), Jackson has been behind the bench for several NHL, ECHL, IHL and European teams for 19 years and counting. A graduate of Bloomington Kennedy High School and Notre Dame, Jackson is currently the head coach of the Eisbären Berlin in the German Ice Hockey League.

Jackson began his coaching career as the head coach of the Knoxville Cherokees (ECHL), followed by a two-year stint as an assistant with the Quebec Nordiques. He went back to the minor leagues as a head coach for three years in the IHL and CHL before returning to the NHL in 1997-98. For the next seven seasons, Jackson was an assistant coach with Pittsburgh (1997-2000), Chicago (2000-01) and Ottawa (2001-04).

The NHL lockout in 2004-05 forced Jackson to a coaching role in Europe. Page, then the head coach in Berlin, hired Jackson to coach defensemen late in the 2004-05 season. Jackson then became the head coach of the DEG Metro Stars in Dusseldorf, Germany, before heading back to Berlin as the head coach for the 2007-08 season. With Jackson behind the bench, Berlin has won the past two German Ice Hockey League Championships.

An offensive-minded coach, Jackson seems to be a strong candidate for the Wild opening. He's a Minnesota native, a former NHL player and a successful veteran coach with loads of experience. Fletcher would be wise to give Jackson a look as the search continues for Lemaire's replacement.