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Former UND coach Blais continues recruiting sons of UND legends

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--Mason Morelli grew up hearing stories about the University of North Dakota hockey program. His grandfather is a legend, having scored the overtime winner in the 1959 national championship game, giving UND its first title. His f...

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Mason Morelli. File photo

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-Mason Morelli grew up hearing stories about the University of North Dakota hockey program.

His grandfather is a legend, having scored the overtime winner in the 1959 national championship game, giving UND its first title.

His father, Matt, played for four years at the school in the early 1990s.

"I wanted to play for them so bad," Mason said. "When I went on my unofficial visit, I was starstruck. I was mesmerized. I always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my dad and my grandpa. I always wanted to be a Sioux."

But throughout the recruiting process, his grandpa, his father and his uncle, Mike, also had some keen advice for Mason, who wasn't sure if he would receive an offer from his dream school.

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"They said if you get a chance to play for Dean Blais, you shouldn't pass it up," Mason said.

He didn't.

Morelli signed to play college hockey for Blais at Omaha.

And apparently, he's not the only one who received that advice.

Mason is the latest son of a former UND player to be recruited to Omaha by Blais, the longtime UND coach who led the program to national titles in 1997 and 2000.

Since his arrival in Omaha in 2009, Blais has recruited Josh Archibald, Dominic Zombo, Dayn Belfour, Morelli and Taylor Ward to play for the Mavericks.

Blais coached all of their fathers-Jim Archibald, Rick Zombo, Ed Belfour, Matt Morelli and Dixon Ward-as a UND assistant under Gino Gasparini.

Ward won't come to Omaha until 2018, but Blais has had pretty good luck with the others.

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In 2013-14, Archibald and Zombo finished 1-2 in scoring for the Mavs. Archibald was named the National Collegiate Hockey Conference player of the year and signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Belfour played for Omaha for two seasons, posting a .906 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average in limited action.

Now, Morelli is a key player, having already matched his freshman point total (11) by Christmas break.

"If North Dakota wants a local kid, they're probably going to get them," Blais said. "But we've done well with North Dakota kids and kids who I've coached their dads. We've been lucky that way."

Morelli grew up in Minot and played high school through his sophomore season.

He was playing his junior year with Minot's North American Hockey League team when Blais offered.

"As bad as I wanted to be a UND Fighting Sioux," Morelli said, "I just felt like my calling was at UNO."

Morelli played two more years of junior hockey with Fargo in the United States Hockey League after his commitment (under former UND defenseman John Marks) before heading to Omaha.

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Morelli quickly gained the trust of Blais.

After being scratched five times in the first 14 games of the season, Morelli played every game the rest of the season. In the second half, he finished second on the team in goals (6), only behind Jake Guentzel, who has played in the NHL this year.

He opened this season on a five-game point streak and has 11 points in 18 games heading into this weekend's series against UND (7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Baxter Arena).

"He's a grinder, a reliable winger, an honest hockey player," Blais said. "He goes to the net hard. He can kill penalties. He can get on the power play."

That's the same description Blais could have spelled out for Archibald and Zombo, too. Blais has brought the same philosophies he had at North Dakota to Omaha-as well as players with the same last names.

"He preaches hard work, a strong forecheck and a gritty, hard-nosed, blue-collar kind of game," Morelli said. "He tells us that's the kind of style that's going to win. Seeing his track record and all the winning he has done, we all believe it."

After all, it's what they hear at home, too.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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