When ever the Badgers play Minnesota Duluth in hockey, it rekindles memories of a Speedo, a toilet seat, the Kennedy assassination and a pontoon boat.
The main characters in those memories are former coaches Mike Sertich of the Bulldogs and Jeff Sauer of the Badgers.
Their friendship, or dare I say love for each other, goes way back. It started with Jeff’s dad being a good friend of Mike’s dad. It continued when Mike’s brother played for Sauer at Colorado College. Add in the 18 years they competed against each other and you have a bond that probably will last forever.
When you talk with Jeff and Mike, the one “bonding trip” that instantly brings a smile to their faces is a trip to Finland in 1996. Sertich and Sauer were the coaches for the U.S. National Team that was competing in a tournament in Helsinki.
After traveling for about 20 hours to get there, the Finish hosts told them they had a special treat for them. After dinner they took Sertich, Sauer, Mike Johnson and Rob Malnory of the Badger hockey staff out on a ferry boat ride. The boat had a sauna on it. They were all given a Speedo to wear in the sauna.
As you might expect, the Speedos may not have been exactly the right size. They apparently also get tighter when they get wet. The rest of the details I will leave to the four guys but needless to say one can imagine the laughter, comments, and commotion that went on trying to get in and out of the Speedos.
At Christmas time that same year Sertich got a Christmas present from Santa. He opens it and what does he find? A Speedo. That same Speedo mysteriously comes back to Jeff’s office, only to be returned to Sertich via a Chocolate birthday cake. Where is it now? Mike said it’s at his house but it probably won’t stay there.
Sertich still lives in Duluth and some years ago he moved from the city to a new home on the lake. While construction was going on, the only bathroom they could use was in his cottage next to the new house.
Mike said one day his daughter came out of the bathroom and was screaming. He thought she must have seen a mouse or something. When he checked it out, he found a white toilet seat with a big red W on it.
Ask Sertich who would do such a thing and he says there has been more investigation done on this then Watergate. Mike believes he knows the culprits and chain of events that got it there. When I asked Jeff about it, he denied having anything to do with it.Yaw – right coach.
Anyone who has spent any time around Mike Sertich knows that besides hockey, fishing and the Kennedy assassination rank very high on his priority list.
Sertich has a fishing boat that has all the bells and whistles. It apparently would make any fishing guide proud. One summer Mike invited Jeff to come up to Duluth and go fishing with him.
Mike told me that when Jeff saw the boat he could see Jeff’s eyes light up. He knew Sauer was thinking, "wow, this is going to be great." The only thing Jeff did not know was Mike had arranged for his neighbor to pick them up with his old pontoon boat.
Laughing as he told me, Sertich said you should have seen the look on Jeff’s face. It was like, "what the hell is going on here? Is this another prank or what?"
Turns out that they did not need the tournament equipped fishing boat or fish finder to catch a lot of fish and have a great day on the water. Catching the fish was great, but Mike said the best part of the day was the time they spent together, talking about hockey, their families and life in general.
When you’re with Sertich and talking about life and what’s going on in the world, the Kennedy Assassination may well come up. So where does the fascination come from? Mike told me it started with his parents.
When Kennedy was shot in Dallas, his dad took him out into the woods with a similar bolt action rifle that Oswald had used and he showed him how it would have been nearly impossible to fire three shots in that short amount of time. His mother gave him a video tape that had been produced in Britain that provided a different perspective of what could have happened.
Since that dreadful day of November 22, 1963, Sertich has read more then 100 books on the subject. His opinions are interesting.
If you ask Mike if Oswald acted alone, he will tell you that there might have been three shooters. In addition to Oswald, there was one on the grassy knoll and probably one on the bridge. Who was responsible for it? Sertich thinks it was a combination of people and it was pay back time for Bobby Kennedy’s trying to get rid of Castro.
Before Sertich retired, if he wasn’t talking about the Kennedy assassination or fishing, his focus was on hockey.
During the 18 years he was head coach at Minnesota Duluth, his teams won 350 games. That’s more victories then any other coach in Bulldog history.
Sertich was also selected as the WCHA Coach of the year three straight times which has never been matched in league history. During his tenure at Minnesota Duluth he also coached three Hobey Baker Award winners.
The Bulldogs and the Badgers played about 80 games when Sertich and Sauer were coaching. The Badgers won a few more games but Mike really had Jeff’s number during the '83 through '85 seasons. The Bulldogs defeated Wisconsin 12 straight times.
But to both coaches those numbers really do not mean a lot. Sure they were both competitive and wanted to win, but the bottom line is when the games were over it was time go to the Nitty Gritty in Madison or Sammy’s Pizza in Duluth for a little post game chat about the game, life, or whatever else came up.
Mike fondly remembers 1992 in Albany New York. The Badgers were competing in the Frozen Four. Sertich sensed that his buddy was uptight. He thought about putting on the Bucky Badger outfit, skating up to the Badger bench and reminding Jeff that it was a non-conference game so there were no points involved and so the game was no big deal.
He chickened out, but did talk Mike Leckrone into letting him lead the Badger Band in the playing of the Budweiser song. Sertich was also there after the game when Wisconsin lost to Lake Superior State in the championship game.
When I mentioned to Sertich that you don’t see those kinds of things happening with a lot of the coaches in the league today, Mike agreed. He said it all changed with the coaching salaries increased dramatically and a lot of league members built new facilities. He added that college sports became a bigger business and there is more pressure on the coaches today.
When Jeff coached his last game, I went down to the Badger lockeroom. I turned the corner and down the hall I saw two men hugging. I heard one say are you all right? The other saying I am ok. When Mike coached his last game, who do you think checked to make sure he was his friend was all right? You got it.
Sertich said there a lot alike because they were basically raised with the same values. They both were taught to be loyal, compassionate, trustworthy and respectful of everyone they came in contact with. Mike also said both understood that being involved in hockey was a privilege and not an entitlement.
Between Mike Sertich and Jeff Sauer they won more then a 1,000 games. They also both ran successful programs that both universities and some fans may not have appreciated as much as they should have.
At the same time I know that Mike and Jeff both realize what they accomplished and that’s good even for both of them. After all there are more important things in life and one of those is making sure there life long friend is doing fine.
To me it does not get any better then that.