Tonight, former Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey head coach Mike Sertich will be inducted into the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame.
The honor comes almost 35 years to the day that Sertich accepted the head coaching job at UMD, after initially leaving his home that morning to turn down the offer.
Sertich recalled the morning of May 25, 1982 for me last week in an interview for a Sunday feature leading up to his induction into the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame. You can read about why he was going to turn down the job here. It really is an interesting story, one that shows how close the history of UMD men’s hockey came to going in an entirely different direction.
Of course, a lot of fans remember another possible turning point for UMD men’s hockey a few years later in 1985 after Sertich led the Bulldogs to three-straight NCAA tournaments in his first three seasons on the job, plus back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Frozen Four in Years 2 and 3.
It was the summer of 1985 and the Bulldogs’ rival to the south, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, were looking for a new head coach. The Gophers had just fired Herb Brooks’ protege Brad Buetow, who went 172-75-8 in six seasons in Minneapolis — including 31-13-3 in his last year. He won two WCHA titles and took the program to two Frozen Fours, but that wasn’t good enough for the mighty Gophers.
Minnesota decided to go after Sertich, the top college coach in the state at the time. Sertich went down to the Twin Cities to interview for the job, but unlike the morning of May 25, 1982, he stuck to his plan that day.
Sertich was never going to leave Duluth, despite the fear he would.
“I had no intention of going there. I wasn’t even going to use it as a bargaining chip because I didn’t think I had any reason to have to do that,” Sertich said of interviewing with the Gophers. “I said I’d listen. We went down and visited with them. I think in a lot of ways I wanted to do that because professionally it probably would have been the best for me in terms of recruiting, as far as resources. But in the end, it came down to the fact that I didn’t want to leave the area, I did not want to be bought, and that basically my commitment to UMD was stronger than I thought it was.”
I asked Sertich if he had any regrets not taking the Gophers job years later. Minnesota ended up hiring Doug Woog, who took the program to 12-straight NCAA tournaments and six Frozen Fours, including four in his first four seasons. Meanwhile, Sertich and the Bulldogs would only make the NCAA tournament once after 1985.
Sertich said while he thought about it, he never had any regrets staying at UMD.
“I thought about it after the fact when I was out of the game, maybe I should have, but I realize the difficulties a guy like (Don) Lucia has there now,” Sertich said referencing the current Gophers coach who constantly has his job status questioned these days despite winning two national championships and a conference title each of the last six seasons. “He’s not an ‘M’ man and that was kind of in my mind. I was a little bit leery because I was not an ‘M’ man, even though I joking said my diploma says University of Minnesota on it, it doesn’t say ‘slash Duluth.’ I belong to the Minnesota alumni association. Perception is reality sometimes. You’re not one of them.”
Photo credit: 1998 DNT file photo of Mike Sertich during a practice at the DECC.