Uncle Dean is coming to town.
Willie Corrin, a freshman defenseman with Minnesota-Duluth, will get to smile and say hi to a familiar face this weekend when UNO visits for the final weekend of the regular season.
His uncle is Dean Blais, the Mavericks’ coach.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Corrin, who grew up in International Falls, Minn., a couple of hours north of Duluth. “My grandparents are coming down for the first time this year to watch. There are probably 15 (immediate family members) who will be there.”
There wasn’t a family entourage the first time the teams met, when UNO swept an early November series in Omaha. The distance between Omaha and International Falls, about a 10-hour drive, was part of the reason Corrin chose Minnesota-Duluth rather than UNO.
Plus, had he gone to UNO, his uncle Dean might have transformed into something else.
“It would have probably ruined my relationship with him to coach him,” Blais said. “Mean Dean would have come out and he would have gotten his tail chewed like everyone else — and I don’t know how he would have taken it.”
Corrin said Blais has always been just uncle Dean to him, even when they would make the four-hour drive for every North Dakota game when Blais was coaching that program to national championships and deep NCAA tournament runs.
“We have a really close family,” Corrin said. “We always get together in the summer. I cut his grass (at Blais’ cabin) every now and then. I golf with him as much as I can. And it’s always competitive with him.”
Corrin chuckles when others tell him of their encounters with his uncle.
“Everyone tells me how intimidating he is, that he does this and he does that,” Corrin said. “I just laugh and say, ‘I don’t know this guy that you’re talking about.’”
Playing for “Mean Dean” was something Corrin wasn’t particularly interested in for reasons based on more than geography.
“It would have hurt our relationship because the coach-player relationship is 100 percent different than a family relationship,” Corrin said. “And I didn’t want to be known as Dean Blais’ nephew. I wanted to prove to everyone that I can make it to the next level on my own.”
“Plus, I didn’t want to start a big issue with him and my mom if I wasn’t playing as much as she’d like,” Corrin said, laughing.
Blais drafted Corrin while coaching the USHL’s Fargo Force, but Blais took the UNO job before getting the chance to coach Corrin. Corrin decided upon Minnesota-Duluth in the spring of 2010, and then spent two seasons in Fargo.
“I talked to him about (playing at UNO) — I’ve seen him more than anyone else, obviously,” Blais said. “I always knew he was going to be a Division I hockey player. But he chose Duluth so my dad and mother and his family could watch him more. That’s the closest Division I school other than Bemidji, and (Duluth coach) Scott Sandelin has known Willie and did a good job recruiting him.”
The Blais family reunion isn’t the only tie-in between UNO and Minnesota-Duluth — the Mavs’ Joe Krause and the Bulldogs’ Adam Krause are brothers.
One central figure in the Blais family won’t be there — Jean Corrin, Willie’s mother and Blais’ sister, is attending the wedding of a friend in Arizona.
“She’s not real happy about it,” Willie said.
Corrin, naturally, isn’t overly pleased that he’s been in the lineup for just 12 games this season, but he’s not overly surprised by it, either. That usually goes with the territory for freshmen at high-level programs.
“I knew it would be something like that, and it’s always frustrating to not play, but you take it for what it is and work harder to get in the lineup,” he said. “I finally got my first point (an assist) last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville, so that was a big monkey off my back.”
Corrin had three goals and 23 assists last season to lead Fargo defensemen in assists and points. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder considers himself an offensive defenseman — no surprise there considering his family blood.
“I’m a pretty good skater for my size, got a pretty good shot and vision, but my strength isn’t the best,” he said. “I think more offensively than defensively sometimes, and sometimes coaches like that and sometimes they don’t. When you’re in and out of the lineup, they prefer that you focus on defense.”
While Blais said he had a spot for Corrin at UNO if he’d wanted it, Corrin said he doubts he would have become a Maverick, even if Minnesota-Duluth hadn’t recruited him.
“I think the whole uncle thing would’ve pushed me away,” he said.
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