Sertich went still on the ice recently in July after his home rink had re-opened following the lockdown according to the Duluth News Tribune, which first reported about his death and talked with his family.
“He was a really great dad,” his daughter Cynthia Flood told the Duluth News Tribune. “He spent so much time with all of us growing up, teaching us simple things. He always had time for us.
“He was a quiet, humble man who had wonderful qualities of self-sufficiency and independence, but mostly he loved his children.”
Sertich and his wife raised seven children. In an interview he said they had between 40 and 50 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.
A veteran of World War II, Sertich was born on 18 July 1921. He grew up and passed away in the house he was raised in Duluth, Minnesota.
Guinness World Records lists him as the oldest ice hockey player when he broke his own record on 20 July 2017 by playing at an international oldtimers’ tournament in Santa Rosa, California, being 96 years and 2 days old.
Most recent hockey photos show him playing with his old-timers’ team at the Essentia Duluth Heritage Center wearing a jersey of Croatian club Medvescak Zagreb – a hint at his heritage. The jersey was provided by his grandson Andy Sertich. The former AHL player went to the country of their roots in 2009 to play for Medvescak Zagreb and later also for the Croatian national team.
Sertich – or “Sertie” has his teammates called him – played youth hockey in Duluth and continued with the game after returning from World War II, helped build a rink, was coaching the teams of his children and heading the Duluth Amateur Hockey Association. After retiring from his job he started to play hockey again in his ‘60s with current and retired firefighters in a 30-and-older league.
Skating with and against younger players helped him defy age, the friendships he formed kept him going. Among his teammates was Warren “Butch” Williams, a Duluth-born former NHLer from the ‘70s, who called him a wonderful, wonderful man when Sertich was inducted into the community’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“He was so good at curing himself,” Cynthia Flood told the Star Tribune. “He got himself through so many injuries where everybody else said, ‘That’s it, no more hockey,’ and a month later he was back out on the rink.
“He often said to me, ‘I don’t know what the fuss is all about.’ To him, staying fit was simply about opening the door, putting one foot out and moving, she said.”
In an interview with the Minnesota Monthly three years ago he said: “When I’ve got an injury, I lay it back a little bit, but I like to get into the action. I believe that my immune system should be able to take care of it. I don’t like to take pain medication. I’ve always said that hockey players are the greatest bunch of athletes there are. These guys are special. Of course, I have learned some bad habits from them, too.”
At that time he hoped he would still be able to play hockey at 100. Unfortunately his skate in early July was his last and he will be dearly missed at his rink and community.
His family and friends celebrated Sertich’s 99th birthday on 18 July with a drive-by party due to COVID-19. One week later he fell and doctors discovered metastasized cancer on his liver. Last week he suffered a stroke and died a few days later on 24 August 2020.