A call from the Blackhawks to the coach in the NHL got the Bulldogs’ Plante heart

Back in early July, Minnesota Duluth assistant head coach Derek Plant saw his eldest son, Zam, go to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round of the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, Quebec.

Just under three weeks later, Derek Blunt was the one to take the call from the National Hockey League. The Chicago Blackhawks, who hired Plant as development coach from 2015-2020, wanted him back as assistant coach.

“I got the call maybe last week Wednesday or so just to see if I had any interest,” said Blunt, a Cloquet resident who lives in Hermantown. “My heart started pumping right away.”

Black Hawk made Blunt’s appointment – reported by the News Tribune last week – official on Monday morning. Plante will work alongside fellow assistant coaches Derek King and Kevin Dean on the staff of new head coach Luke Richardson.

Blunt, 51, played with all three during his 15-year professional career, which included eight in the NHL. Drafted by the Buffalo Sabers in the eighth round in 1989, he traded from Dallas to Chicago with Dean in 2000, played for Richardson in 2000-01 in Philadelphia and then played with King overseas.

“The three are really cool guys,” Blunt said, and it would be such a fun cast to be a part of.

“I’m really excited,” said Blunt, who won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 2000 after more than five seasons at Buffalo. “There are a lot of good people involved, and as far as anything else involved, it’s a great team. I played with all three coaches. I’m really excited about it. It’s a great opportunity.”

Minnesota Duluth assistant coach Derek Blunt talks with goalkeeper Ryan Fante during training at Amswell Arena in Duluth during the 2020-21 season.

Clint Austin / File / The Duluth News Tribune

Blunt played four seasons for the Bulldog team from 1989-1993 and returned to his university in 2010 to work as an assistant coach under Scott Sandelin. He left to work with Blackhawks prospects in 2015, but returned to UMD two years ago as co-head coach because he said he wanted to get back on the ice to work with hockey players on a daily basis. He said he wanted to be involved in what was happening on the ice every day.

Blunt did that at UMD over his seven total seasons as a coach — helping the Bulldogs reach two Frozen Fours, win the NCAA title in 2011 and crown NCHC Frozen Faceoff this past season — and now he’ll do it off the bench at the highest level.

“It’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to test me a little bit to stand up to Patty Keane, Jonathan Toews, some of these guys from hockey legends,” Blunt said. “It will be a little nerve-wracking at first, but I hope I have gained my streaks enough to be able to help them in some way. I am excited for the challenge.”

Derek Blunt said moving to Chicago comes just in time for his family. Zam, a UMD recruit approaching his senior year of high school, will play a good part – if not all – of the 2022-23 junior season with Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League. Max—the middle child of Derek and his wife, Christy Blunt, a former Bulldogs softball and basketball major—is set to play the next two seasons in the USA Hockey Team Development Program, based in Plymouth, Michigan. Youngest kid, Victor, will be a freshman in high school this fall and will play his second season at Bantam hockey in Chicago.

Sandelin said it’s been great to have Derek Plant back on the coaching staff for the past two seasons, and he’s excited to have Plante take over in the National Hockey League.

“It’s great to see him get this opportunity,” Sandelin said.

The Bulldogs coach has said for the past 22 seasons that he will begin the process of finding Plante’s replacement this week. Sandelin said he has some potential candidates in mind and some interested people have already reached out, but the three-time national championship coach said he’d love to go through the process and open up those searches. Interesting candidates you’ve never thought of can come up, Sandelin said, and they’re people who offer a different perspective.

“It would be nice to get it done before our guys get back[to campus],” Sandelin said of hiring a new assistant, “but it could go deeper depending on the process.” “I don’t want to rush it. I want to make sure she fits right in. If it takes a little longer for this person to get here and settle down, it will take even longer.”

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