Mike Sertich is one of the lucky ones.
“There aren’t many guys in this job who get a second chance,” Sertich said, “and I got one.”
Sertich, who was named the full-time coach at Michigan Tech on Wednesday, a little over two months after becoming the school’s interim coach, was ecstatic about, first, getting the opportunity to get back into coaching, and second, earning the trust of the Michigan Tech brass.
“It’s not that it relieved any pressure because there wasn’t any. I came here with no guarantees and no assurances,” Sertich said. “I didn’t realize how much I missed it. I didn’t realize how many things I was doing wrong before.”
Now, Sertich said, he plans on righting those wrongs.
Near the end of his term as Minnesota-Duluth coach last season, Sertich started to pull back.
“When things aren’t going well, you have a tendency to pull back emotionally, kind of coach to save your job,” said Sertich, who spent 18 years as the Bulldogs’ head coach, winning three WCHA titles and the league’s coach of the year honor four times.
“You become a little bit introverted. You don’t want to get zinged any more and you’re tired of the talk shows and tired of the media. You just don’t want to see people. I looked at it and I was denying it.”
Then, he got his second chance.
“And then this came up and I just didn’t realize how much I missed it, No. 1,” he said, “and No. 2, I really said that I have to improve in those areas and I intend to.”
He’s helped the Huskies improve, as well. As interim coach, he was 4-9 — not an impressive won-loss record, but progress nonetheless at Tech. He’s using the same system as he did in Duluth and seems to have earned the confidence of the players.
“They’re very animated with me, No. 1,” Sertich said, “and No. 2, they really listen. They’re eager to learn.”
Michigan Tech’s search for a permanent replacement for Tim Watters could have become a months-long struggle with names and interviews and stress.
But then Sertich came along.
It took approximately two months for Tech athletics director Rick Yeo to be convinced Sertich was the perfect man to lead his hockey program’s rebuilding efforts.
And the clincher may not have been what you think.
When the Huskies came out of nowhere to blow out Michigan and take Michigan State to overtime in the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament in late December, it was the first real good sign Sertich had started to turn things around in Houghton, Mich.
But that wasn’t it, Yeo said. Rather, it was the next weekend, when Tech went to rival Northern Michigan and got a win.
Sertich said, despite not fully being immersed in the Tech-Northern rivalry, he could appreciate the significance.
“It was no different than Duluth going into Minneapolis,” Sertich said, taking a page from the rivalry he, as UMD coach, held with Minnesota for years. “Everything was the same. The intensity was the same, it’s bragging rights.”
Above all, Yeo saw how the players worked with Sertich, and that may have sealed the deal.
“I guess what the advisory committee was looking for was a teacher, primarily, and a communicator,” said Yeo, who appointed the committee to conduct the brief national search that led to some national interest.
“We had a real good Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, and even prior to that I was impressed with the way the team had responded to him. The more we got into the actual search, the more it became apparent that the guy we have right here is probably as good as anybody we’re looking at.”
And Sertich, 54, may be at his best when he gets the chance to be a teacher.
“I’ve told a number of people that I’m seeing the best Mike Sertich right here,” Yeo said. “I think he’s really excited about the job and he’s committed to keeping this enthusiasm. And I think it’s rubbed off on the team, the team’s having a lot of fun. He’s lighthearted so they have a good time together.
“He’s a player’s coach.”
When Ralph Talks…
The Associated Press reported this week that North Dakota super-booster Ralph Engelstad, the namesake of the current Fighting Sioux hockey arena, considered pulling his funding from the new arena under construction if the school changed its nickname.
Engelstad, who is funding a large portion of the $85 million building, said in a letter to university president Charles Kupchella that it was not a threat. But his words could be construed that way.
“It is only notification to you of exactly what I am going to do if you change this logo,” read the letter, dated Dec. 20, a day before the North Dakota Board of Higher Education voted 8-0 to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname with a new Indian-head logo.
Engelstad’s letter said he would stop construction of the arena, set to open in time for next season, eat around $35 million in expenses and let the building deteriorate as is.
A former UND goaltender, Engelstad is the owner and general manager of the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino.
As the old saying goes, when Ralph talks, people in North Dakota listen.
On Top Of The World … For Now
Having successfully made their way to the top of the WCHA standings, the members of the St. Cloud State Huskies should stop and look around.
Take in what it’s like to be the top team in the league, to have everyone gunning for you.
They won’t be there for long, after all.
That’s not saying the Huskies won’t get back to the top of the WCHA this season — they have as good a shot at that as anyone. But after taking over the top spot with a sweep of Michigan Tech and North Dakota’s split with Minnesota, St. Cloud will likely relinquish that role after a pair of nonconference games this weekend.
So instead of topping the conference being a distraction, Huskies coach Craig Dahl is looking at it as an opportunity.
“That, to me, would be motivating,” Dahl said. “You’d rather come to the rink when you’re in first place than when you’re in 10th place. It seems like it would be more fun.
“You have a sense of accomplishment so far, but we realize there’s 12 games left in the league so there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Indeed, Dahl’s team has one of the toughest roads to the MacNaughton Cup as anyone. Compared with North Dakota, which plays only two more road series, it’s downright brutal.
After this weekend’s series with Brown, the Huskies go to North Dakota, host Colorado College, go to Alaska-Anchorage, go to Wisconsin (note the tough turnaround there), host Mankato and have a home-and-home series with Minnesota.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Dahl said.
And how. There’s a tendency to look to the end of the season and wonder where you’ll be.
But Dahl is preaching to his players to take things as they come.
“It’s all got to be done step by step. You can’t get to March until you get through February; you can’t get to February until you get through the rest of January. You just have to focus on the upcoming games and not worry about what’s going to happen down the road.
“North Dakota only has to take two road trips … so they’ve got a very advantageous schedule. Obviously for us to win the league, it’s going to have to be a Herculean effort.”
Don’t Believe The Hype
Is it possible, Don Lucia was asked, to put aside the ramifications of the Border Battle and just concentrate on a series of WCHA play?
The answer the Minnesota coach gave was pretty close to a “yes.”
“I don’t care if we’re playing Wisconsin or Duluth or whoever, the points are what’s important now,” said Lucia, about to take part in his fourth weekend series between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“We’re five points ahead of Wisconsin, so if we can go in and split, that should keep Wisconsin behind us the rest of the season in the standings. To me, that’s what you’re playing for.”
With his team as healthy as it has been since the last time it played Wisconsin (a sweep of the Badgers in Minneapolis on Nov. 3 and 4), Lucia has his eyes on a successful completion to a critical stretch in his team’s season.
A three-week stretch saw the Gophers go to Anchorage, host North Dakota and, this weekend, go to Wisconsin. They’re 3-1 right now, and a split this weekend would get them to where Lucia had hoped.
“To be honest, going in, I figured if we could go 4-2 in this six-game stretch, we’d be happy,” Lucia said.
On the Wisconsin side, the Badgers have to find a way to break out of a home slump. A loss and a tie to Denver last weekend made the Badgers 1-6-1 in their last eight games at the Kohl Center.
Their season could take a turn for the worse in the next five series, considering the opponents. After hosting Minnesota, the Badgers take a week off before going to Anchorage and North Dakota, hosting St. Cloud State and going to Colorado College.
Already needing wins to climb back into the top five of the league, they’ll need wins over the league’s elite to do it.
If not for a 2-1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth last Friday, in which it outshot the Bulldogs 41-19, Colorado College could be with St. Cloud State in first place in the WCHA.
Last weekend, we all wondered how Denver was going to respond to a pair of losses to CC. The Pioneers did pretty well. This weekend, we’ll see how the Tigers will come back after missing on such a big opportunity.
They play a single game against rival Denver, and there probably couldn’t be a better place to get back on track than DU’s Magness Arena. They’re 3-0 there against the Pioneers (4-1 overall, including two games in last season’s Denver Cup).
The Great Divide
At long last, we finally have the trademark divide in the WCHA standings.
Only it’s not where you may expect.
The greatest division in the league standings comes between seventh and eighth place — Minnesota State-Mankato (seventh) has 14 points and Alaska-Anchorage (eighth) has seven.
The Mavericks’ sweep of the Seawolves last weekend helped this split happen. What has happened, in effect, is that the race for home ice for the first round of the playoffs has become a seven-team affair.
As it stands right now, St. Cloud State, North Dakota, Colorado College, Minnesota and Denver would host first-round series. With 20 points, Denver marks the cutoff between the two halves.
Wisconsin, with two games in hand on the Pioneers, is three points back at 17. And Mankato, with two games in hand on Wisconsin and four on Denver, is another three points back of Wisconsin at 14.
That means, conceivably, Mankato could get eight points in the four games it has in hand on Denver and pass the Pioneers by two points.
“We’re not looking at it that way,” Mankato coach Troy Jutting said. “With the start we had, it sounds like a cliche, but we’re trying to go out every game and play hard. If we get back into that part of the standings, that would be great. Obviously that’s a goal of ours.
“We have half a season left so do I think it’s a possibility? Sure. But I also know every one of them above us is a very good hockey team.”
The top of the conference isn’t where all the fun happens, after all.
He Said It
“It doesn’t make any difference anyway, because by the time we get to the end of the season, everybody will have played the same amount of games in the league.”
Dahl, on falling behind in conference games played this weekend.
News And Views
On The Docket
It’ll be another raucous crowd in Grand Forks, N.D., next weekend, when St. Cloud State comes to town to play the Fighting Sioux, another in a long line of tough tests for the Huskies.
Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State-Mankato play an unorthodox Thursday-Friday series in Mankato, Minn. But that’s not quite as strange as next week’s events for Minnesota, which hosts Brown on Tuesday and Bemidji State on Saturday.