For any standout athlete in any sport, the process of being recruited — the need to size up all the sweet talk — can grow old in a hurry.
But when Dean Blais offers you a chance to join his team, Brock Montpetit said, there's nothing blasÚ about it.
“That was a very big ‘wow' moment for me,” said Montpetit, who will be a rookie at the University of Nebraska at Omaha under Blais in 2010-11. “Ever since I was young, I've been watching college hockey and known all about Coach Blais through his time at North Dakota. To have a guy like that tell me he wants me to come to his school, it's just a great honor.”
After leading the Mavericks to their fourth 20-win season in program history, Blais will begin his second year in Omaha this fall. The coming season represents Blais' first chance to put his stamp as a recruiter on UNO's roster. It should come as no surprise that Blais, widely known for his up-tempo brand of hockey, will bring in a class with some proven offensive punch.
In forwards Montpetit, Matt White and Ryan Walters, the Mavs will add three of the top 12 scorers last season from the United States Hockey League. UNO also will welcome in Bryce Aneloski, the points leader in 2009-10 among USHL defensemen.
“I think we have a lot of good players coming in this year,” said Walters, who played three seasons with the Des Moines Buccaneers. “I'm excited to get to be a part of Coach Blais' team, because he knows how to win.”
Blais and UNO associate head coach Mike Hastings have strong ties to the USHL, the top junior league in the United States. Blais, who coached the Fargo Force for one season prior to taking over the Mavs, was the USHL coach of the year in 2008-09. Hastings, who spent 14 seasons as coach and general manager of the Omaha Lancers, is the league's all-time leader in victories.
Without question, White, Montpetit, Walters and Aneloski were four of the brightest stars skating in the USHL last year.
Area hockey fans already are well familiar with White's set of skills. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder from Whittier, Calif., was the USHL player of the year. He tied for the league lead with 35 goals, and he ranked second with 82 points, one behind Tri-City's Jaden Schwartz.
During one stretch, White notched points in 17 consecutive games, piling up 15 goals and 25 assists during that span.
“My first season in Omaha was with Mike Hastings, and of course Coach Blais, his record speaks for itself,” said White, whose plus-41 rating was the highest in the USHL since 2003-04. “You can't go wrong with either of those guys, so UNO was a pretty easy place to pick.”
Montpetit ranked eighth in the league with 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists) for the Waterloo Black Hawks. A 5-10, 180-pound forward from Somerset, Wis., he was a second-team all-USHL pick. Six goals were game-winners, and he finished sixth in the league with a plus-35 rating.
Walters is a 5-11, 185-pound standout from Rosemount, Minn. He had 21 goals and 40 assists last season with Des Moines, and he scored a hat trick to earn MVP honors during the USHL all-star game.
Aneloski had 15 goals and 39 assists while playing all 60 games for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. A first-team all-USHL selection, he ranked 19th in the league overall with 54 points, and he was fifth with 210 shots on goal. A 6-1, 197-pound defenseman from Pekin, Ill., Aneloski on Saturday was selected in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators.
“There are a lot of guys coming in who kind of tore it up in the USHL last year,” said Aneloski, who ranks as Cedar Rapids' career scoring leader for defensemen. “We're all looking forward to getting started, and it should be a lot of fun.”
While it's never a guarantee that gaudy statistics in juniors will translate into college success, White, Montpetit, Walters and Aneloski all will arrive at UNO with plenty of experience. The four USHL veterans each played three seasons in the league, and together they appeared in more than 600 games.
all four also previously committed to other high-profile programs but re-opened the recruiting process for a variety of reasons. Walters was to play at Minnesota, Montpetit originally committed to Wisconsin, and White was set to go to New Hampshire. Aneloski returned to Cedar Rapids after beginning his college career at Providence in 2008, and he'll be a sophomore at UNO this season.
The Mavs won late recruiting battles for each player, and all of them said the chance to play for Blais — and compete in the WCHA — weighed into their decision. UNO will join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2010-11.
“A lot of the guys on our team grew up watching the teams in the WCHA, so there's really a lot of excitement to go up against those teams,” Montpetit said. “But we can't be too in awe of them, because they're our opponents now.”
It's entirely possible that the Mavs could go through some growing pains this season as they adjust to life in their new league. In college hockey, the WCHA enjoys the same type of reputation that the Southeastern Conference has built in college football.
And after graduating seven seniors, including all three captains, UNO enters the WCHA with a roster heavy in underclassmen.
The Mavs will not finalize their team until later this summer, but they could bring in up to 11 newcomers. Others who have made known pledges to play for UNO include:
╗ Zahn Raubenheimer, a 5-9, 160-pound Canadian forward out of Grande Prairie of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Raubenheimer led the AJHL last season with 47 goals and 107 points in 60 games.
╗ Johnnie Searfoss, a 6-foot, 175-pound forward from Colleyville, Texas, who skated for Blais in Fargo. Searfoss had 74 career points in two USHL seasons and helped Fargo make back-to-back appearances in the Clark Cup finals.
╗ Alex Simonson, a 6-3, 185-pound forward from Grand Forks, N.D., who was an alternate captain for the Chicago Steel. Simonson led the USHL with 179 penalty minutes while playing in 35 games during his injury-shortened 2009-10.
╗ Michael Young, a 6-2, 215-pound Canadian defenseman who starred with the Flin Flon Bombers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Young was fourth in points among SJHL blueliners last season with 13 goals and 33 assists in 55 games.
╗ Tony Turgeon, a 6-4, 225-pound defenseman from Grand Forks, N.D., who was a teammate of Montpetit's at Waterloo. While skating with the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League in 2008-09, Turgeon had 10 points and 124 penalty minutes in 48 games.
╗ Andrej Sustr, a 6-6, 195-pound defenseman from the Czech Republic. Sustr had a goal and 18 assists last season while playing 50 games for Youngstown of the USHL.
╗ Mike Taffe, a 6-foot, 180-pound goalie from Maple Grove, Minn. With the NAHL's Fairbanks Ice Dogs, Taffe had a 20-6-1 record and a 2.67 goals-against average last season.
If the Mavs do take their lumps early in their first WCHA season, Blais no doubt will hope that his second season at UNO follows the arc of his only year coaching in Fargo.
The expansion Force in 2008-09 had the youngest roster in all of the USHL. But Blais' team became one of the best in the league during the second half and advanced to the Clark Cup finals.
“It's not going to be easy moving up to college, because it's another step and the guys are all bigger, faster and stronger,” Walters said. “But we know we have some good older guys here already, and all the new players are going to come in and work hard. We can't wait to get going.”
Contact the writer: