ST. PAUL -- Rico Blasi is originally from Toronto and made his reputation as a coach and recruiter while working in southern Ohio.
But he has always been well-known and active among the Minnesota hockey community. As of Tuesday, Blasi will officially join the Minnesota hockey community, with a big job ahead of him.
On Friday morning, the University of St. Thomas sent a tweet confirming the much-rumored story that Blasi, 49, will be the Tommies’ first men’s hockey coach in the Division I era. The school will hold a press conference next week to formally introduce Blasi.
He comes to the St. Paul school following a brief hiatus to his coaching career after he left Miami University at the end of the 2018-19 season with 398 career wins. Blais took over the coaching reins at Miami, his alma mater, in 1999 and spent 20 seasons there, winning coach of the year honors in the RedHawks’ conference four times, and leading the program to its only two Frozen Four appearances.
In 2009, with Blasi behind the bench, the RedHawks went all the way to the Frozen Four title game in Washington, D.C., and led Boston University by two goals with 61 seconds remaining in regulation, before the Terriers rallied for a miraculous 4-3 overtime win. Blasi’s RedHawks also made the 2010 Frozen Four in Detroit, and a year later in St. Paul claimed the program’s first Hobey Baker Award winner in forward Andy Miele.
“He did a great job of building the Miami program. They were so good and so competitive, and about a minute away from winning the national championship in Washington,” said George Gwozdecky, the former Denver coach who hired Blasi as an assistant coach in the late 1990s. “I think it’s a great hire for St. Thomas. With Rico’s reputation as a builder and a communicator and a great recruiter, I think it makes one heck of a positive splash.”
Blasi was named the national coach of the year in 2006. Blasi was renowned for his recruiting at Miami, most notably for getting several talented players from the hockey-rich Detroit metro area.
Blasi was dismissed by Miami in 2019 after three consecutive seasons with 20-plus losses. He was hired by Providence College in the fall of 2020 as an administrator overseeing men’s and women’s hockey and was thought by many to be the heir apparent to Friars coach Nate Leaman before being named the Tommies’ coach this week.
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“His teams were well-coached, very competitive and very detail-oriented,” said Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin. In 2009, Blasi’s RedHawks beat Sandelin’s Bulldogs in the regional final in Minneapolis. “They were tough to play against. It’s good to see him back coaching.”
St. Thomas, under the direction of long-time coach Duke Boeser, recently completed its final season as a Division III program and will make the leap into the new Central Collegiate Hockey Association next season, competing head-to-head versus the likes of Minnesota State Mankato, Bemidji State, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech and others. Despite not having their next coach in place this winter, the Tommies have been recruiting and building their first D-I team, and are expected to be active in recruiting players from the transfer pool.
For the time being, the Tommies will play home games at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights, which has seating for fewer than 1,000. There has already been much discussion about a possible new arena to be built in St. Paul, closer to the school’s campus in the Merriam Park neighborhood.