Mike Sertich will receive the Spirit of Life Award Oct. 7.

by Jackson Boline (jackson@letsplayhockey.com

Long-time Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey coach Mike Sertich will be honored with the “Spirit of Life Award” Oct. 7 during the first intermission of the Hockey Hall of Fame Faceoff Classic game between the Bulldogs of UMD and the Michigan Tech Huskies. 

“We at the Hockey Hall of Fame are truly the ones who are honored to be handing this award off to Mike,” said USA Hockey Hall of Fame Executive Director Doug Palazzari. 

Sertich, 76, was with the University of Minnesota-Duluth for 18 years, from 1982-200, and Michigan Tech for three seasons from 2000-2003. He led the Bulldogs to back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours and three WCHA regular season titles, ending with a career record with UMD of 350-328-44. 

For someone who was a part of so many big-time victories in the game of hockey, Sertich is aiming to win his most significant battle yet, the game of life. 

Sertich battled a tumor that was discovered in a major vein near his pancreas. The 76-year-old Virginia, Minn. native spent most of his time recovering at his home on the Iron Range after having two major medical procedures in 2022. He spent the next year making trips to the doctor for chemotherapy treatments and on April 10, 2023, reports showed the first sign of great news…no spread. 

Inspiration and motivation are things Sertich has used in his fight against the evilness that is cancer. He drew inspiration from individuals like Tom Kurvers, who eventually succumbed to lung cancer in June of 2022 at the age of 58, but it was the fight that Kurvers showed that gave Sertich the motivation he needed. 

The Spirit of Life Award is described on the Hockey Hall of Fame website as follows: 

“Due to the special nature of this award, the presentation by the U.S. HOCKEY HALL OF FAME MUSEUM begins with a recommendation process followed by a careful review to identify a candidate whose serious life conditions or circumstances related to the game of hockey and connection to the hockey community warrant attention. 

Two primary categories represent the review process. 

Category 1 – Life-Threatening Health Conditions

Category 2 – Physical Injury With Permanent Disability

A candidate identified in category 1 represents many years of personal commitment to player development while facing extreme personal health conditions as they continue to inspire and make a difference in the lives of young athletes while demonstrating for the community how to face adversity in life.

A candidate representing category 2 which emphasizes serious physical and permanent injury is a person who now must face life-changing decisions while demonstrating to the community  their unbridled will to move forward to reclaim their life after

The harsh reality of this special ‘Spirit of Life Award’ emphasizes the serious side representing both categories. For each candidate, there are similarities but different personal challenges as one recipient continues their uphill battle to ‘Prolong Their Life’ while the other recipient fights to ‘Rebuild Their Life.’”

The first Spirit of Life Award winner was in 2012 with Jack Jablonski, followed by Pat Forte in 2016, Matt Olson in 2017, and David Tomassoni in 2021. 

This is an award that embodies everything Sertich is as a person. His no-quit mentality has paid dividends throughout his coaching career, and now it is paying off with the battle he faces now. 

“The award is meant to show appreciation to those who have fought a battle with their health,” said Palazzari. 

Sertich has shown that he is a fighter who has maintained high spirits.

“Mike is a perfect fit for this award because he accepted the battle and is doing it in the right frame of mind,” said Palazzari. 

Sertich is known as a high-energy and happy individual who can liven the room by himself. 

“He’s a great person with a great personality. If you listen to him talk he’ll have you laughing for a long time,” Palazzari said.  

Throughout his battle with cancer, Sertich has remained positive. 

“We’re honoring him because he’s shown an incredible attitude and has made his same jokes along the way,” said Palazzari 

Sertich has achieved many accolades throughout his coaching career, including being in the UMD Athletic Hall of Fame, along with being honored as a “Legend of College Hockey” in 2021 by the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation. 

Mike’s daughter, Lori Sertich, set up a page on Caringbridge.org, and as of Aug. 29, 2023, Mike Sertich received some great news on his battle…

“If you don’t believe in miracles, you better now….Dad had a follow-up with Dr. Friday. Cancer is pretty much undetected – not in remission – but not as large of an area as it was before treatment. There is a growing area around his stent but Dr. Friday is not 100% sure it is cancer, possibly a small infection. Dad will go back in 3 months for another PET scan and could possibly transition into doing CT scans, but that will be decided later.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts – for your prayers, well wishes, hugs, messages …. all of it. It was felt by the whole family and appreciated. Now we celebrate this victory. Dad, you are amazing”.

Sertich’s legacy in the State of Hockey is as strong as ever. He has meant so much to the hockey world not only in his hometown but also with every school he’s been with. 

“This award for Mike is our way of honoring him for what he has done in hockey and all the lives he’s touched,” said Palazzari. 

As Sertich has shown during his long and successful coaching career, he is a winner, and whilst he’s had to face his biggest competitor in cancer, he has never and will never stop fighting to come out with yet another win. 

You can visit the page for Mike at 

www.caringbridge.org/visit/mikesertich to show your support and keep up with current updates on Mike’s journey.