Patrick Reusse
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EVELETH, MINN. – There has never been a father-son connection in the NHL to compare with Bobby and Brett Hull. They are the only combination to each score 600-plus regular-season goals, to score 50 goals in a season and to win Hart Trophies as the league MVP.

Bobby Hull died this week at 84, and photos can be found on the internet of Bobby and Brett embracing at various hockey events later in life.

It was the early winter of 1985 when I went to Duluth with the intent to write a Pioneer Press piece on Brett Hull, a freshman for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, and was warned to go easy with that father-son angle.

Brett's mother, Joanne, had long ago split with Bobby, and his terrible behavior toward Joanne apparently carried much stronger memories with Brett than the "Golden Jet" scoring NHL goals.

Mike Sertich was the UMD coach when his recruiter, Tim McDonald, made the trips to Penticton, British Columbia, to convince Brett that Duluth was where he could become an actual NHL prospect.

"We were told that the person with influence was his mom," Sertich said this week.

Dave Zentner, a longtime Sertich friend and Bulldogs booster, said: "I was flying back to Duluth, trying to make a game, and I first met Joanne on that flight. She's a great lady and she loves the Bulldogs to this day."

The hockey scouts throughout Canada seemed to agree on this: Brett was out of shape and not filled with desire. That's how he wound up in Tier II juniors in Canada.

"Brett only had a couple of goals in the pre-Christmas part of the schedule," Sertich said. "We had a heart-to-heart before that break. When he came back, Brett already had lost some weight and had a completely different attitude.

"Brett scored 30 goals the second half of the season, and then in 1985-86 … 52."

Sertie, a Range guy

Sertich played on the Iron Range for Virginia, was a UMD defenseman for Ralph Romano and Bill Selman in 1966-69 as the Bulldogs started competing in the WCHA, and then served as an assistant to Gus Hendrickson at Grand Rapids High School.

Hendrickson was hired to replace Terry Shercliffe at UMD in 1975 and Sertich came with him. Gus had seven seasons without much success and was fired, and Sertich was given the job on an interim basis.

UMD had a 28-16-1 season and Sertich landed the job. And then came the three years of excellence that launched 10,000 signs that still declare "Bulldog Country."

There is much to reminisce about from Sertich's 18 seasons as Bulldogs coach, and Sertich and Zentner were doing that for 2 ½ hours at Mike's home in the woods near Eveleth.

This was Tuesday and Sertie was feeling "pretty good," although that would change in a couple of days. He was due for another chemo session Wednesday as treatment for pancreatic cancer, and those make him sick for a few days.

"I wasn't feeling good in October and looked jaundiced," said Sertich, 76. "I made a doctor's appointment. I thought it might involve my liver."

The verdict after testing: "I wasn't jaundiced and it was the pancreas. Cancer."

He nodded and said: "They keep doing greater things in modern medicine. We'll see."

The chemo has cost him the minimal hair that remained on his head. Sertie wore a pretty decent toupee at one time, but the past few years he's basically been hanging out with fishing buddies and ditched the toupee.

"My favorite for years has been going to the Northwest Angle [on Lake of the Woods] with Dave and some others," Sertich said. "It's spectacular up there — the fishing and the scenery."

Zentner already was a UMD hockey booster when Sertich came to the Bulldogs as a player. Romano traded in dominating the MIAC to elevate the program to what's now called Division I. The Bulldogs were invited into the WCHA for 1965-66, the last winter in the cramped, freezing Curling Club before moving into the "new" DECC.

"The first game there, we beat the Gophers 8-1 and Huffer had six points," Sertich said. "That's a night in Duluth hockey none of us will forget.''

"Huffer" would be the late Keith Christiansen from International Falls High, UMD's first superstar of big-time hockey.

Just the mention of him caused a laugh from Sertich. "Probably the best friend I've had in life," he said. "And the greatest agitator ever."

He laughed again and said: "When things weren't going well for us in the late '90s, I was going to pick him up downtown, around all the businesses. He was standing on the curb, in the snow, wearing a paper bag with eye holes punched in it … not wanting to be seen with me."

The Bulldogs' turnaround in the first half of the '80s was so strong that Sertich was offered the Gophers job in 1985.

"I'm not a big-city guy; I'm a Range, Duluth, hunting and fishing guy," Sertich said. "I felt like with the Gophers, too many people would want a piece of you. Those were good people, but too many of them."

Representing a region

That early run with the Bulldogs was glorious. They reached the eight-team NCAA tournament from 1983-85, lost 5-4 in four overtimes to Bowling Green in the final in 1984, and 6-5 in three overtimes to Adam Oates-led RPI in the semifinals in 1985.

Tom Kurvers and Bill Watson were back-to-back Hobey Baker winners in 1984 and 1985, and Hull and Norm Maciver were finalists in 1986.

"You know who helped me a lot when I became a head coach? Herbie Brooks," Sertich said. "He gave me some ideas on tactics, but he also said, 'You need something to build on.'

"The Gophers have that 'Pride on Ice.' We developed 'Pride of the North Country.' Hit the ice; you're representing a whole region."

When Scott Sandelin and the Bulldogs won that first men's title in 2011 (followed by back-to-back championships in 2018-19), what was Sertie's reaction?

"We almost got there and we lit the fans on fire," Sertich said. "Back then, beyond the players, I was happiest for Dave here, and the other dedicated people who had invested in Division I hockey from the start.

"I had that same reaction when Sandy and the Bulldogs won it the first time, then two more. What a thrill for Dave, for the longtime fans."

Plus, the pride of the North Country? "Definitely," Sertie said.