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Away from hockey, Sertich ‘pretty much retired and living my life in the woods’

Mike Sertich said he didn't realize the magnitude of the 2015 DECC Athletic Hall of Fame class when Scott Keenan asked the former Minnesota Duluth men's hockey coach to be a guest speaker.

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With five DECC Athletic Hall of Fame awards nearby, guest speaker and former Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey coach Mike Sertich addresses the audience at Thursday’s induction ceremony. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
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Mike Sertich said he didn’t realize the magnitude of the 2015 DECC Athletic Hall of Fame class when Scott Keenan asked the former Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey coach to be a guest speaker.

Sertich, himself a giant of the Northland’s sports scene for so many years, initially learned Mike Karakas, the first American-born NHL goalie, would be inducted.

“When the other four got named, I went, ‘Holy cow,’ ” Sertich said ahead of his speaking duties Thursday at the DECC’s Harborside Ballroom.

Those four: Tom MacLeod, an NFL standout from Proctor; longtime Duluth Figure Skating Club coach Zoe Hill; world-renowned masters runner Dan Conway of Superior; and venerable Chisholm boys basketball coach Bob McDonald.

As Thursday neared, Sertich worried he was in over his head.

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“A friend told me, ‘You outkicked your coverage on this speaking engagement,’ ” he joked. “When you look at what these five people did in their careers and their lives, it really humbles you.”

When the subjects are sports and the Northland, you could do much worse than putting the microphone in the affable Sertich’s hands. The Virginia native played and coached at UMD, leaving the Bulldogs’ bench in 2000 after 18 seasons and a program-best 335 victories.

He didn’t stay out of hockey long, coaching for three seasons at Michigan Tech before serving as a volunteer assistant at St. Scholastica and a bantam coach in Hermantown. Most recently, the four-time WCHA Coach of the Year helped Jeff Sauer with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, which won gold at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

With his wife, Audrie, ill this past winter, Sertich wasn’t around the sport much.

And he missed it. He always does.

“I missed the camaraderie and the relationships with all those players and coaches, and hanging out at the rink, but that’s always been difficult for me to separate from,” Sertich said. “I was always good in the summer and pretty good even up until the fall, but when the geese started flying I got a little itchy.”

Today, the 68-year-old says he’s “pretty much retired and living my life in the woods.” His three kids have given him and Audrie seven grandkids, so when Sertich isn’t hunting or fishing, he’s pursuing a different kind of creature - youngsters.

Asked if he made it out for last weekend’s fishing opener, Sertich, who lives on Island Lake, laughed.

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“No, I didn’t. I entertained my granddaughters,” he said. “That was more fun than fishing.”

The conversation then returned to hockey. Sertich claims much of his success at UMD stemmed from a willingness to swipe aside his own ego and apply what he learned from other great athletes and coaches.

“I don’t know if I ever had an original thought - I’m a pirate,” he quipped. “And I make no bones about it. … Sometimes you have to think outside the box and you have to put your own ego aside and go and find the answers.”

Thursday, Sertich offered flattering words for each of the five inductees as he spoke in front of about 250 people. He was introduced by UMD’s director of athletic development and former men’s basketball coach, Gary Holquist, the master of ceremonies. One of the things all five have in common, Sertich said, was “they served rather than asking to be served.”

Finished, he turned the mic over to the first honoree, Conway, who closed his speech - which alternated between nostalgia and stand-up comedy - by singing “Oh, Danny Boy” with the instrumental help of two others.

The 2015 class gives the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame 62 members. The five newest ones expressed gratitude Thursday.

MacLeod, in town from Spokane, Wash., started his remarks by saying, “You’re looking at a lucky guy.”

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