Former Bulldogs hockey coach Mike Sertich is battling cancer
Mike Sertich was head coach of the UMD men's hockey team for 18 seasons, leading the program to back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours, winning three WCHA regular season championships and coaching three Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners.
DULUTH — Mike Sertich, who led the Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey program to back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours and three WCHA regular season titles during his 18 seasons as head coach, is battling cancer.
The 75-year-old native of Virginia, Minnesota, is currently recovering at his home on the Iron Range from what he described as two major medical procedures undergone in the last week related to a tumor that was discovered in a major vein at the tail of the pancreas.
Sertich said the official diagnosis — whether it’s pancreatic cancer or another form of cancer — is still up in the air. He’s scheduled to meet with an oncologist for an official diagnosis once he’s recovered from last week’s procedure.
“We’re going to go after it, attack it and see what happens, see where we go,” Sertich said of his cancer diagnosis. “It’s the third period, late in the game, we got to get a play here.”
Before he was coach of the Bulldogs, Sertich was a defenseman at UMD from 1966-69. He and Gus Hendrickson coached at Grand Rapids High School before taking over the Bulldogs men’s hockey program in 1975. In 1982, Sertich went from assistant coach to head coach, replacing Hendrickson.
Sertich also coached Michigan Tech for three seasons from 2000-03, volunteered at St. Scholastica and worked with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team.
In 18 seasons as head of the Bulldogs from 1982-2000, Sertich coached UMD to 350 wins, three WCHA regular season championships (1984-85, 1993), two WCHA postseason titles (1983-84), four NCAA tournament appearances (1983-85, 1993) and back-to-back Frozen Fours (1983-84), including the NCAA title game in 1984 that the Bulldogs lost in four overtimes to Bowling Green.
The 1983-84 Spencer Penrose Award winner as national coach of the year, Sertich coached 11 All-Americans at UMD and 21 future NHL players. Most notably, he had six Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalists and three winners — Tom Kurvers in 1984, Bill Watson in 1985 and Chris Marinucci in 1994.
Sertich is a UMD Athletics Hall of Famer and was bestowed the honor of “Legend of College Hockey” in 2021 by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation.
An avid outdoorsman, Sertich described his initial cancer diagnosis as being hit all of a sudden by a rogue wave while out on a lake, river or ocean. It’s a moment that he said was tough to describe.
Sertich said he’s drawing inspiration from others who have battled cancer before him, like Kurvers. While Kurvers eventually succumbed to lung cancer in June 2021 at the age of 58 following a two-and-a-half year battle, the Hobey Baker winner never stopped fighting.
“He fought it and fought it and fought it. That’s what you got to do, that’s what you got to do,” Sertich said. “You can’t lay over for this. You got to answer the bell and I’m ready to answer that bell.”
Sertich’s daughter, Lori, has set up a site on CaringBridge.org to provide updates on her father. Mike Sertich said he’s been grateful and overwhelmed by the support of the hockey community, with words of encouragement coming from coast to coast and from players he coached in both high school and college.
“It’s been overwhelming, to be quite frank with you. It’s non-stop,” Sertich said. “It’s very humbling to hear from former players, friends from way back, college friends, high school friends to a lot of Duluth people. It has been an experience in itself.”