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The man behind “Becoming Wild…at 90”

November 10, 2011

Duluth, Minn., native Mark Sertich defies Father Time on the ice.

Editor’s note: Click here to see the video of Mark Sertich, “Becoming Wild…at 90”

Working for a professional hockey franchise has a lot of benefits: Watching games is in the job description, reporting on the best sport in the world and the pre-game media dining isn’t too shabby.

But every once in a while you stumble upon a story that is so uplifting it changes a little piece of you.

When the Wild were on their pre-season team bonding trip in Duluth, I tagged along, not to follow the team, but a 90-year-old hockey playing legend of the North Shore: Mark Sertich.

“Serty,” as he is affectionately known, has played hockey for a mind-boggling seven decades. He started skating when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president – during his first term.

Now a lot of you might be thinking, “How well can a 90-year-old actually skate?” Well, Serty isn’t out there chasing the biscuit around like a hungry man without a plate. When he first started skating around, I jokingly said he skated like a 50-year-old. Seriously though, they might be a little rusty, but the guy has wheels. When we were watching he scored several goals, and if you think the goalie was letting him score, he wasn’t. No one in his or her right mind would want to get torched by a member of AARP with the cameras rolling.

The term, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore” doesn’t really apply to Serty, because I’m not sure they’ve ever made ‘em like him. Serty is a prototype: he wasn’t created out of a mold; he was the template and then he outlived it. He takes the ice with a red bucket, large rimmed glasses and a handlebar mustache that would make Snidely Whiplash jealous.

Last season, Serty was worried that he wouldn’t be able to skate again because of a broken ankle. But with Wolverine like healing powers he was back on the ice a year later. He said that he has always been a quick healer, even 10 years short of the century mark.

The thing that really sticks with you after meeting Serty is his attitude. In the day that we spent together, he never let out a complaint, never had a negative thing to say and was completely generous to our crew. He allowed us into his home, shared memories of his hockey past and was willing to do anything we asked of him for the video – including taking us through his daily workout regiment which includes 100 push-ups a day.

I can only hope that Serty still has a number of years in front of him. Regardless of how much longer he continues to lace up his skates, Sertich will linger in my mind, an eternal wonder outskating Father Time, who made me realize that age is just a number.

What Pre-Season Polls Really Mean

September 28, 2011

Ask any college hockey coach what they think about their team’s pre-season ranking and you’ll get a similar response: It doesn’t mean anything.

Sure, there are variations of the response. For instance, if your team is picked to finish in the top three you might hear, “It’s nice, but it doesn’t matter because the games are played on the ice.” Or, if your team is in the bottom three your team’s bench boss may say, “We think we can finish higher and that’s why we play the games.”

Pre-season polls are invented by the media in order to drum-up excitement among fans. In reality, polls mean nothing — ask SCSU about last year’s pre-season ranking.

However, depending on where your team’s ranked in the pre-season, it can be worth something.

Top Tier

If your team is ranked in the top three it will have a target on its back. Every time you go into an opponent’s arena, you are going to get the underdog’s A-Game.

This can be beneficial because it will build character. When playing in Podunk, Nowheresville and the other team is playing like it’s Game 7 in November, it will prepare you for playing tight games and games with playoff-like atmosphere.

The downfall with being highly ranked is that the team can begin to believe the hype, not show up early and never regain the confidence it had at the beginning of the season. This is similar to a child actor: They’re on a hit show where everyone is telling them they’re great; then they try to step their game up and star in a dramatic role only to find out they really don’t have the chops; the movie is a bomb; the actor develops a drug problem; never gets another starring role and ends up on Celebrity Rehab.

Only in hockey, when you reach the Celebrity Rehab stage of the season it’s far too late to revive the year because you’re a burnt-out skeleton of the potential you once had.

Middle Tier/Disrespected

The best thing that can happen for a team in a pre-season poll is to be ranked fourth or fifth. This ranking means that the coaches/media/whoever-came-up-with-this-scientific-method-of-polling believe the team is not a dog, but they don’t think they quite have what it takes to win a league title.

This is the definition of Bulletin Board Material.

If a team is ranked outside the top three, it gives the coaches/managers/players the material for the  ‘they don’t respect us’ or ‘us against the world’ mentality. There is no easier speech for coaches to deliver than the ‘they don’t respect us’ speech. You can ride this for an entire season. Even if a team does break into the top three and is playing for a league title, a coach can dust off the ‘they don’t respect us’ speech. Hell, I’ve heard frontrunners use it, often. And it’s in every coach’s wheelhouse because at one time or another all good coaches have felt disrespected in their career.

Bottom Tier

The problem with the pre-season poll: Someone has to be on the bottom. Sure, half the time us media types don’t know what we’re talking about and predict with the accuracy of Donovan McNabb in the second half, but we can usually pin-down one or two of the worst teams in a league. There is nothing worse for a fan to be at the bottom of a pre-season poll. Even though the ‘games are played on the ice,’ deep down the fans know they don’t have a chance at a winning season.

The bottom feeders in the pre-season poll can use the ‘us against the world’ mentality, but like their fans, know they aren’t that good. Sure, every once-in-a-while a team can pull off a Cinderella Season. But these seasons are aptly named because coming from the bottom to win it all is more of a fairly tale than a reality.

Breaking down the ‘Super League’ talk

July 12, 2011
Understanding talk leading up to tomorrow’s press conference about the ‘Super League’ has been difficult to piece together.

Understanding the quotes leading up to tomorrow’s press conference about the ‘Super League’ has been difficult.

The once hearsay ‘Super League’ talk between the University of North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Nebraska Omaha and Miami University is a reality. The landscape of college hockey is murky – along with some of the quotes in the media involving realignment. Tomorrow, a press conference from the defecting schools might shed some light on the reasons for forming a new league, but anyone who has ever followed sports knows the true reason behind the Super Conference will unlikely be unearthed at a press conference, if ever. To help clarify some of the chatter leading up to the official presser, the Hockey Hair-All will interpret some of the recently published coded sports talk.

UND athletic director Brian Faison told the Grand Forks Herald: “Several institutions have been looking at the college hockey landscape and different possibilities that might be out there. At the end of the day, we have to do what’s in the best interest of UND hockey and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s an emotional decision. It’s a business decision.”

Bruce McLeod: What can I do for you? Brian, you just tell me, what can I do for you? 

UND: It’s a very personal. Very important thing…Are you ready Bruce?

Bruce: Yeah.

UND: I just want to make sure you’re ready… Here it is: Show me the money. AH-HAHA!

Bruce: (Awkward silence).

UND: (Turning up his radio and dancing) SHOW…ME…THE MO-NEY!!!

UAA athletic director Steve Cobb said to the Anchorage Daily News: “I blame everybody for being less than honest with their own league members. It’s a really sneaky back-door deal.”

By saying ‘everybody’ he means UND, Denver, CC, UNO and UMD. The way the ‘Super League’ talk went down was sneaky, and the teams remaining in the WCHA are getting bent over and back-doored.  

Cobb added, “I’m not offended at all they want to start a conference. I’m very offended at the way it was handled. We’ve got two years left, and I assume it’s going to be very tense and very uncomfortable.”

In a high-pitched girlfriend voice, “I’m not mad… I’m not mad!” For the next few years, the WCHA going to be as uncomfortable as sandpaper underwear and tenser than fishing line with a 100-pound halibut. 

Denver head coach George Gwozdecky told the Denver Post: “We want to be aligned, and want to be continued to be aligned, with schools of like-minded thinking (that) operate as we do.”

Like minded thinking? Was he signing up for an eHarmony account? Was he drinking red wine with his pinky in the air when he said that? I didn’t know being a hockey conference was like joining the Tea Party.

Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph said to the Colorado Springs Gazette: “You cannot assume there’s a new league. It’s fair to say there have been discussions. That’s about it.”

You can more than assume there will be a new league, and we are planning to be a part of it. It’s fair to say this is more than a discussion; it’s a reality. That’s about it.

Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman told the Mankato Free Press: “I don’t quite understand what the urgency is.”

Buisman didn’t understand the urgency because he wasn’t a part of the discussion, along with the remaining WCHA and CCHA teams that got back-doored.

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said to “I’m not sure why or whatever; I’m not privy to those conversations. I’ve never had a conversation with North Dakota or Denver about their plans that they’re pushing. At this point, I haven’t thought about Plan B at all. I’m still working on the assumption that we’re together as 10 [teams after Minnesota and Wisconsin leave for the Big Ten] and, as unanimously directed by the group in Florida [at league meetings in April], can consider extending an invitation to anybody that could strengthen the league. And that’s our plan.”

It is interesting that he admitted to not having a Plan B. You don’t tell people, especially the media, there is no Plan B, even if there is no Plan B. You know that scene from the Godfather when Vito Corleone tells Sonny, “Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again”? Well, this applies when to talking with the media as five of your schools want to branch out and form their own league.  McLeod assumed that everything would continue on when Wisconsin and Minnesota left for the Big Ten, as did most college hockey fans, but we all know what happens when people assume. It’s also interesting that McLeod specifically names UND and Denver and the plans they’re pushing, yet, said he hasn’t had a conversation with those schools. Maybe this next quote is more telling.

This quote was from McLeod in the Duluth Tribune News: “I haven’t heard from any one of the schools about why they’re leaving. With Minnesota and Wisconsin leaving, you can’t be what you were as a league, but we would’ve still had a good, solid league. I just wish people would’ve stopped, taken a deep breath, taken a step back and thought about what they were giving up. What was the rush? These (five) teams can’t blame WCHA (inefficiency) for their actions. This is in their lap. The WCHA has a good track record.”

He is already talking in past tense about the departing members of the WCHA like a guy at the bar reminiscing about a girlfriend and trying to figure out why she dumped him. Maybe this is one of the reasons the Super Friend League was formed.

St. Cloud State president Earl Potter said to the St. Cloud Times: “We expected to be in conversations about being in a new league. But as we looked at it … we intended to say ‘no.’ ”

When I was a kid, my older brother was hanging out with friends and decided they were going to get some ice cream. As he was walking out the door he told me, “We’re going for ice cream, but you have to stay and watch the house.” As they laughed and walked down the street, I yelled, “Fine! I didn’t want to come and eat ice cream anyway!” At least my brother walked out the front door. 

‘Super League’ could mean curtains for the WCHA

July 7, 2011

Will the formation of a 'Super League' spell the end of the WCHA?

Stories of the possible formation of a ‘Super League’ featuring teams from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) was a blind-side hit to the heads of many college hockey fans.

Talk of the new league is among University of Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha of the WCHA and Miami University, Notre Dame and possibly Western Michigan of the CCHA.

This would leave a depleted WCHA with Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State. Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan would all remain on the bench in the CCHA.

Talks of a ‘Super League’ are undoubtedly a response to the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. Currently, the ten-team WCHA is a strong conference, leaving WCHA fans to ponder, “Why would teams in the WCHA want to realign to form a new conference?”

Role Players

For years the WCHA has been rodent-centric, with the Gophers and Badgers nibbling in the ear of commissioner Bruce McLeod. It’s not surprising the likes of UND, CC and DU are considering different options.  If you were the best player on your team and the coach continued to put lesser talents on the power play, wouldn’t you want to go somewhere you’d get more ice time?

It makes sense for the WCHA Final Five to be hosted in St. Paul every year. But for the Gophers to always get the more attractive late game during the playoffs, even when they were a lower seed, is an ice-spray to the face of all the teams that finished ahead of the U of M and had to play in the afternoon.

Now that the Gophers and Badgers are departing for the Big Ten, North Dakota and the Colorado schools are the marquee teams in the WCHA. However, they don’t need the WCHA and are acting in their best interests. Here is what UND athletic director Brian Faison said in a Grand Forks Herald story, “At the end of the day, we have to do what’s in the best interest of UND hockey, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Faison told the paper. “It’s an emotional decision. It’s a business decision.”

And if their best interests include groin spearing a league that treated them like role players, that’s just like adding a garbage goal in a blowout victory.

State of college hockey

Fracturing the WCHA would be a cross-check to the face of college hockey.

Can you really picture five Minnesota schools in three different leagues? The rivalries built in the State of Hockey would be brushed away like a goalie sweeping his crease. Imagine SCSU only playing UMD every other year or so.

Wanting to join forces with Notre Dame makes sense for CC and Denver because these schools are flying anywhere outside of Colorado regardless, and UND is an ally that only solidifies this bond. But for the WCHA to lose UMD, who fortuitously built a new arena and won the National Championship in the same season, it would lose the interstate rivalry built on tradition.

When I skated in Sioux Falls, we joked that Minnesotans were from the Island of Minnesota because they only talked about state’s high school and college hockey. Now, as a resident of Minnesota, I understand the importance of having interstate rivals facing off on a weekly basis in college hockey. If the WCHA loses UMD – along with CC, DU and UND – the remaining Minnesota schools will be on an island without cold drinks, sunshine and sandy beaches.

Cold Feet: My first gig as a wedding photographer

June 8, 2011

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I woke up at 6 a.m. Saturday morning in a cold sweat. My alarm was set for 8 a.m., but I tossed and turned for an hour, desperately trying to get some much needed rest for the day ahead, before finally rolling out of bed.

It was the first time, in a long time, nerves kept me awake. I was excited, nervous, with butterflies rolling around in my stomach like lottery balls.

But that is expected on any man’s big day: My first wedding…as a professional photographer.

Luckily, much of the burden would fall on Eric Wheeler, fellow St. Cloud State grad, who asked me to help out on the assignment and be the second photographer on the scene. This was Wheeler’s first wedding, and he wanted another camera around, so he tapped me to follow the groom and his groomsman, and take ‘journalistic’ photos of the day’s events.

However, with this being my first professional assignment, I was worried about ruining the couple’s special day. The church was an old, transformed school gymnasium, with ceilings higher than my heart rate and darker than the groom’s tux. The overhead LED lights were also set at a blue, purple hue that gave photographed subjects a light tint of Smurf.

Armed with a borrowed camera flash from Neil Andersen, a sympathetic, wily veteran of harsh photography conditions, I drove to the church with trepidation and a roll of wintergreen flavored Tums.

I, semi-jokingly, tweeted that I was sweating like a groom, but my feet were colder than champagne on ice, waiting to be uncorked after the ceremony.

So, 8 hours and 1,000 photographs later, here are some of the photos I took on my special day, and, I suppose, Doyle & Wheeler Photography is officially open for business.

Happy Birthday Bob: Top 10 Dylan Lyrics

May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan has been 'getting born' for 70 years.

It is hard to believe that the man who wrote “Forever Young” is turning 70. To celebrate his birthday, Rolling Stone put together a list of the 70 greatest tunes penned by Bob Dylan.

No surprise, Rolling Stone ranked its namesake “Like a Rolling Stone” the best Bob song of all time.  The song is six-plus minutes of scorching venom that forever changed what a pop song could be and is. The surrealist, finger-pointing takes aim listeners’ conscious asking, “How does it feel?”

When I played in Wheeling, W.V., the players were introduced at a fan party and we had to answer a few questions about ourselves. I was asked, “Who is your biggest influence?” I answered, “Bob Dylan.” The question was directed towards my hockey career, but Dylan’s songs had such an impact on me, I couldn’t resist trying to get some Nailers fans interested in America’s greatest songwriter.

No matter what your opinion about Dylan, or what you believe about the man, he is able to write lyrics and lines that can stop you in your tracks and make you think.

To celebrate Dylan’s 70th, I’ve concocted my own list: The Hockey Hair-All Top 10 Dylan Lyrics. There are thousands of great Dylan lines to choose from, but these are a few of my favorites.

He not busy being born is busy dying. From “It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”

Any line from “It’s All Right Ma” could have made the list. But a line that sounds like a casual observation is Dylan’s call to live life to the fullest.

May your heart always be joyful/May your song always be sung/May you stay forever young. From “Forever Young”

For a guy who could turn a poisonous pen onto anyone who wronged him, Dylan’s sweet serenade wishes the best in this heartfelt wish. Many believe the song was an ode to Neil Young. Regardless to whom Dylan directed this song, it stands as one of his most touching songs.

I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now. From “My Back Pages”

Sometimes Dylan’s nonsensical lines make the most sense. The beauty of his veiled lyrics, individual listeners can apply different meanings line to line. I don’t always understand what Dylan is trying to articulate, but the older I get, the more I can relate to these lines.

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain/Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain. From “Not Dark Yet”

The most asked question most Dylan fans ask: “How many of Dylan’s lyrics are autobiographical?” “Not Dark Yet,” like many of his songs, doesn’t provide any answers. Does he truly believe humanity is doomed? Is this sense of detachment where he thinks great art comes from or just his own?

I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it/And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it. From “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

To many Dylan followers, ‘Hard Rain’ is one of his most prophetic songs, and these lines decidedly tell listeners what he has been put on earth to do.

Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have/Before he can hear people cry? From “Blowin’ In The Wind”

Good question. Peter, Paul and Mary put ‘Blowin’ onto the radio and it was mainstream America’s first look at Dylan’s lyrical prowess. Many believe this to be a ‘protest song,’ a tag Dylan would later detest, but he was just asking a question. Despite what many fans wanted from him, Dylan didn’t have any answers.

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind/You could have done better but I don’t mind/You just kinda wasted my precious time. From “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

One of Dylan’s earliest breakup songs, it’s a bitter eulogy to a relationship gone awry. Is there anything more devastating to say to a former partner than they were a waste of time? Cold-blooded.

Yes, I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You’d know what a drag it is/To see you. From “Positively 4th Street”

If “Don’t Think Twice” was mean, “Positively 4th Street” was ruthless. How can someone who wrote such biting criticism be so adored? Dylan cemented his legacy as the world’s most vindictive songwriter with this tune delivering verbal jabs throughout, but the last line is the uppercut knockout.

I got a head full of ideas/That are drivin’ me insane. From “Maggie’s Farm”

In “Maggie’s Farm,” Dylan proclaims that he will not be chained by anyone, including fans and their preconceived notions of him. The folk idiom that made him a superstar was too small to hold all of the ideas he had about himself and his music. The electric blast of “Maggie’s Farm” is a young man’s declaration that he will not be caged.

I can’t think for you/You’ll have to decide/Whether Judas Iscariot/Had God on his side. From “With God On Our Side”

After giving a brief history lesson of America at war, Dylan throws the listener a curveball and asks, “If God is responsible for everything that happens, was he responsible for the actions of Judas?” He was 22.

Birthday Bonus: I can’t help it if I’m lucky. From “Idiot Wind”

No Bob, we’re the lucky ones. Happy birthday.

Face-off on the ice

May 17, 2011

Author’s note: This article appears in the St. Cloud State University alumni magazine Outlook Spring 2011. Three part web extra interviews with Matt Hendricks and Mike Oliver can be seen here: (Part I) (Part II) (Part III)

Matt Hendricks and Mike Oliver at Heinz Field sight of the 2011 NHL Winter Classic.

Matt Hendricks, a former captain of the Husky Hockey team, sat down in front of the camera, his face marred from the night before. Landing face first onto the ice after a fight, he was left with a swirling bruise that lit up his eye socket like an aurora borealis. Seven stitches were required to mend the gash. Repugnant by most standards, the badge was an unsubtle reminder of another National Hockey League battle, beautiful only to those who find solace on a hockey rink.

On the other side of the camera, Mike Oliver ’05 asked Hendricks when he became a fighter.

“If I don’t do it, somebody else will,” Hendricks said with an intense yet morose expression.

So is life in the NHL.

The scene was from HBO’s critically acclaimed television show “24/7 Pens Caps: Road to the Winter Classic.” The series took viewers on a four-week odyssey, into the locker rooms of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins on their way to the NHL’s premier regular season event: The Winter Classic.

For the St. Cloud State alumni facing off on both sides of the camera, Hendricks, and Oliver ’05, who was associate producer of the crew following the Caps, it was not their first encounter at a hockey rink. Oliver was the executive producer for Husky Productions, UTVS broadcasts of St. Cloud State men’s hockey games, and is now working in Los Angeles as a producer with DLP Entertainment.

Hendricks, in his first year with the Washington Capitals and second in the NHL, was a four-year Husky hockey standout from 2000-04. Known for his scoring in college, Hendricks has augmented his game to stay in the NHL after bouncing around for several years in the minors.

“Last season, I was talking to a buddy on the golf course about trying to make the team (Colorado Avalanche) out of training camp,” Hendricks said. “He told me that I didn’t need to worry about scoring goals, but to play the role of a fourth-liner.” He took the advice to heart, fighting six times in preseason. Hendricks made the team and appeared in 56 games during the 2010-11 season.

This year he attended Capitals’ camp without a contract and impressed them with “my grit and willingness to stick up for teammates.”

Soon after making the team as a free agent, Hendricks said, Capitals General Manager George McPhee informed the team about a film crew following their season. “He said it was going to be full access.” Hendricks said. “They were in the training room, closed door meetings and joined us while we watched film.”

Inserting a camera crew into the height of an NHL season and asking players to share their innermost thoughts is a daunting assignment for even the most seasoned professional. But for Oliver, knowing a familiar face, initially, was reassuring.

“Being in college and working with him in St. Cloud, it was a situation, ‘Who knows if I’ll ever see you again,'” Oliver mused. “But when I saw him, it made things easier.”

However, for Oliver and the crew following the Capitals, the HBO experiment didn’t start smoothly. The film crew captured the Capitals amid an eight-game losing streak. As Washington struggled, the focus was soon turned on Oliver and the cameramen. Hockey players are notoriously superstitious and outsiders are treated friendly, but cautiously.

“We came in and the guys started losing and they looked at us as if we were the reason for their losses,” Oliver said. “They were kidding with us, but sometimes it felt as if they meant it. It made all of our jobs extremely difficult. We wanted to follow the guys but they didn’t want us to, because they were losing.”

More than 4.5 million viewers tuned-in to NBC during primetime to see the Caps vanquish the Penguins 3-1. The show won a Sports Emmy Award for “Outstanding Edited Sports Special” and gave Hendricks and Oliver a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“(Hendy and I) had a chance to look back at our time in St. Cloud where we both had no money, no experience,” Oliver said. “We were able to make it in our respective fields, in the careers that we wanted to be in.”

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