Denfeld News

August 1, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

Age no issue for these two hockey players with Duluth ties
By Kevin Pates

Keith Gilbertson has been away from his Duluth hockey roots for more than
35 years, but living in Las Vegas doesn’t mean his skates are gathering dust. He plays in an adult no-check league three times a week at the Fiesta Rancho Hotel’s NHL-size rink or the Las Vegas Ice Center.

Staying in shape allowed Gilbertson, 59, to help his team of oldsters to the 50-and-over title at the 35th Snoopy’s World Hockey Tournament, billed as the world’s premier senior event. The weeklong, 55-team puck extravaganza, which ended July 17 at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa, Calif., is held in tribute to founder Charles Schulz, the late St. Paulite who created the Peanuts comic strip.

“The camaraderie of a team game is something that’s hard to find, and it’s hard to stay away from,” Gilbertson said last week. “I’ve had some injuries, but nothing to keep me from playing for too long.

“I play a lot of golf and hockey, and I’m not sure which one I enjoy most, but it’s all business whenever I’m out there.”

If he ever needs inspiration, he can find it in Duluthian Mark Sertich.
Sertich, 89, has been going to the Snoopy’s tournament since 1983 and is the event’s oldest competitor, and likely the oldest active hockey player in the United States.

He skates an average of three times a week with the Duluth firefighters team, which includes Gilbertson’s younger brother, Gary.

Keith Gilbertson’s team, the United Nations 50s, went 3-0 and he had seven of its 19 goals. Sertich’s team, the Baker Bearings of Oregon, went 2-1 and placed second in the 70-and-older division, and he had one goal. Both players are centers and met and talked in Santa Rosa, and may be on the ice together this week when Gilbertson takes some vacation time in Duluth.

“(Sertich) is as good as any guy in his 70s. He’s amazing,” Gilbertson said.

Gilbertson grew up skating at Lower Chester Park, and then played four years at Duluth East, graduating in 1968, and at St. Scholastica. He tried out for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team and briefly tried minor-league hockey, including with the Las Vegas Outlaws. He’s stayed in Las Vegas and worked for 35 years as the director of purchasing at the Imperial Palace, owned by the late Ralph Engelstad, a former University of North Dakota goalie. He retired in 2007.

The best-known skater in the family is older brother, Stan, the first American to score four goals in an NHL game (for Washington in 1975), who had his career cut short in 1977 because of an auto accident. Stan Gilbertson, 65, living in Lodi, Calif., also came by the Snoopy’s tournament to watch some hockey.

Sertich was excited to be in the tournament, after recovering from a sports setback. While he holds the family record for longevity and is known for his durability, he took a tumble during the 2009 NorthShore Inline Marathon. He broke three fingers on his left hand, hurt his left shoulder and head, broke his glasses, and needed an ambulance ride into town and an overnight hospital stay.

“If you want to keep active and keep playing sports, you have to put up with those things. Injuries are going to happen,” said Sertich, who has lived in his family home in West Duluth for all but a few years since 1927. “I’m back inline skating on the Munger Trail and I’m hoping to be in another hockey tournament in September in Burnaby, British Columbia.”

Sertich received some face time in the 2009 award-winning documentary “Freezer Geezers,” which follows a 70-and-over team from Massachusetts taking part in the Snoopy’s tournament.

The British Columbia tournament matches 80-year-olds against each other, the only one in the world according to organizers. Last year, the oldest player competing was Mario Marasco, 87, of Calgary, Alberta.

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