UMD, Ohio State men's hockey series will reunite coaches
When Gus Hendrickson was let go as men's hockey coach in 1982, Minnesota Duluth offered the job to assistant Mike Sertich.
After considerable angst, Sertich accepted the position and went on to lead UMD to a pair of Frozen Fours. Yet the move caused a rift between the coaches that took several years to be smoothed over.
Last April, Ohio State fired head coach Mark Osiecki and days later elevated associate head coach Steve Rohlik to the top job. Rohlik, who was teammates and roommates with Osiecki at the University of Wisconsin, is hesitant to discuss the matter in detail other than to say it was unfortunate and that he is honored to have been considered for the job.
"It was a very unsettling, tough situation that you don't want to see happen anywhere," he said Wednesday from Columbus, Ohio. "For them to give me the opportunity to lead this program, ultimately that's what I had to do."
Rohlik spent 10 seasons as a UMD assistant, tutoring under current head coach Scott Sandelin, and now welcomes the Bulldogs into Value City Arena for a nonconference series Friday and Saturday. While he's playing down the obvious storyline of taking on his former team, he hasn't forgotten his time at UMD.
"I wouldn't be here if not for the opportunity to work with Scott and be with a lot of great assistants," Rohlik said. "My three kids were born there. Duluth is home. You don't just put away 10 years of your life and a lot of fantastic memories and relationships with players.
"But now it's my job to go out and do my best for OSU. At the end of the day, it's about two hockey teams playing each other and not about Steve Rohlik."
One of those assistants Rohlik worked with at UMD is working alongside him. Duluthian Brett Larson was a Bulldogs captain as a senior in 1995 and spent three years as an assistant before leaving after the team's 2011 NCAA championship. He was coaching at Sioux City in the United States Hockey League when he heard from Rohlik and was offered what he describes as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to coach in the Big Ten.
"When you are presented with an opportunity that is that special, you have to take it," Larson said by phone on the way back to Columbus from a Toronto recruiting trip. "We had a good relationship at UMD and helped Scott do something special. (Rohlik) knew what he was getting out of me because he had seen how I handled myself and how I did my job."
Several current UMD players fondly recall being recruited by the coaching duo.
"(Rohlik) is an intense guy; I loved his intensity and that was a big draw that brought me here," senior goaltender Aaron Crandall said. "And the same with Larson. I really liked them both and respect them as coaches."
Junior winger Adam Krause also was wooed by the pair while at Hermantown.
"They are the main reason why I came here," he said. "When they left it was devastating, but we have two good coaches here now in (Jason Herter and Derek Plante)."
Sandelin has been through similar situations in the past such as when he left his post as a North Dakota assistant under Dean Blais and then faced his mentor when he came to UMD. While he's more focused on readying his players for a competitive series than going down memory lane, Sandelin is appreciative of his former assistants.
"Steve was here for 10 years and did a really good job recruiting, was a good coach and became a really good friend, too," Sandelin said. "Brett wasn't here as long, but in three years he made a good name for himself as an assistant coach and recruiter."
After an 0-3 start, the Buckeyes have won their last three games, including 5-3 over Bowling Green on Tuesday night.
"We're up-and-down, a little inconsistent," Rohlik said, also describing his own coaching effort. "I'm making my share of mistakes, but these guys know I'm going to show up and do the best I can. I'll fall down and skin my knees plenty of times, but I'll keep getting back up and fighting the battles to do the best for this program."
Though Rohlik and Larson may have no more than a quick trip through the handshake line to reminisce with their former team, it should prove memorable.
"I owe my coaching career to Scott Sandelin," Larson said. "I was kind of an out-of-the-box pick when he hired me. I had just finished playing and didn't have a ton of coaching experience. Without him taking me on at UMD, I'm not where I'm at right now.
"To say it's not going to be a special weekend would be really downplaying it. It's going to be a lot of fun and competitive. I'm really looking forward to the weekend."