St Thomas’ assistant women’s hockey coach Marty Sertich has long been associated with the sport’s deep roots in Europe.
His father, Steve, a former boys and girls head coach at Roseville High School, played professionally in Germany in the 1970s. Sertich knew early in his career that he also wanted to play in Europe one day, and it became a reality.
The bond is further strengthened with Certich’s success in recruiting three European players to Tommy this season – defenseman Nicole Valerio and Switzerland goaltender Saskia Maurer, and Swedish defenseman Elvira Svensson.
Certich, who won the 2005 Hobby Baker Award at Colorado College, played in the American Hockey League for four years as a member of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche organizations before continuing his career in Europe. He played for three years in Switzerland and three years in Germany before retiring after the 2015–16 season.
Sertich joined Tommy as an assistant coach in 2017 and most recently served as interim head coach before Joel Johnson took over.
Certich’s coach in Switzerland, Colin Müller, is now the head coach of the Swiss women’s national team. The two reunited last fall.
“Once it was officially announced that St. Thomas would be moving to Division I, I started networking with various coaches and thought he would be joined by a great man,” Sertich said.
“He’s had a lot of players over the years who played NCAA hockey, so he was very familiar with it. He had a good gauge of the level of play in NCAA hockey, and in particular the WCHA, and he said he had some players that we should be looking at.
Relying strictly on what he saw of the players on tape, Sertich decided that Maurer and Valerio had what it takes to play at Division I level.
“Saskia was playing in Switzerland with the boys in the top under-20 league,” Sertich said. “They play at a very high level. Looking at her, she’s not very big (5-foot-5) but all I could tell was, at first, how hard she tried to stop the puck.
“I could tell what a good athlete she was. The games were being played at a fast pace and she was doing a great job. It made me believe that she can definitely play at this level here.”
Valerio also stood outside.
“I remember talking to Colin, he said, ‘Wait until you see his skate,'” Sertich said. “He has an incredible stride. His skating stands out, but he is a well-rounded defender.”
Neither Maurer nor Valerio had been to America until this summer. But he knew so much about college sports that he wanted to be a part of it.
“It was my dream,” Maurer said. “Sometimes it was like, ‘I want to go.’ And then it was, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ But when I got a chance, it was clear that I wanted to go.”
Valerio also dreamed of playing college hockey in America, and was thrilled when he learned that Maurer, his teammate and friend of that national team, was also joining Tommy.
“(WCHA) is really good and the Swiss league is not that good,” Valerio said. “If you want to be better, this is your best chance to be better. It was a great opportunity for me.”
Valerio, who has been part of the Swiss national program since the age of 13 and has been with the senior team since 2018, said it would have been too expensive to come without the scholarship. When Tommy made an offer in November she was thrilled to accept it.
“This is the chance of a lifetime,” she said.
Valerio and Maurer will head back to Switzerland in December to try out for the Olympic team. There is a strong possibility of both being elected.
“Every year is different,” Maurer said when asked about his chances of making the team. “I’ll give it my best and we’ll see.”
Sertich heard about Svensson through Peter Allender, a longtime coach in Sweden, who is also a former assistant coach at Ohio State. Relying on sports tapes once again, Sertich reached out and quickly found that the interest was mutual.
“It’s been my dream since I was 13, especially playing a Division I role,” Svensson said.
5-11 Svensson said she was close to accepting an offer to play at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but quickly changed her mind when the St. Thomas opportunity presented itself.
Svenson is attending St. Thomas on an academic scholarship.
All three players said St Thomas’ strong academic profile also made their decision easier.
Excited to welcome talented players with strong character to the programme, Sertich said the door is open to recruit more Europeans in the future.
“As we build and try to get better every year, we’re going to see,” he said. “There really is no limit.”
With Tommy now having three more connections to the sport in Europe, even more possibilities could present themselves. For example, Svenson’s younger sister Maja is considering following in her sister’s footsteps and playing college hockey in America.
The two have talked about the possibility of playing together at St. Thomas.
“That would be great,” Svensson said.