COLERAINE — When Bob Gernander of Coleraine was recently named as the recipient of the American Hockey Coaches Association’s (AHCA) John Mariucci Award, it came as a surprise to him.
The Mariucci Award was created to honor a secondary school association coach who best exemplifies the spirit, dedication and enthusiasm of Eveleth native John Mariucci, otherwise known as the “Godfather of U.S. Hockey.” Gernander will receive the award in May during ceremonies in Naples, Fla.
While Gernander spent many years as a coach at the high school, Junior hockey and professional levels, he has been out of coaching since 1990 when he signed on as a full-time scout with the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League, and he has served in that capacity since then. He said he is honored to have received the award.
“I knew John Mariucci a little bit and had some contact with him, and he was the Godfather and it’s a nice name to be used for the award for Minnesota kids, I will tell you that,” said Gernander. “The award came right out of the blue and I had absolutely no idea on it. I am very honored.”
A Duluth native, Gernander coached Greenway High School for two seven-year stints, the first one from 1966-1973, and the second from 1983-1990. During this time, he coached five state tournament teams (1967-70, 1987) and captured back-to-back state championships in 1967 and 1968. His 1969 team won the state consolation title and his 1987 team took third place.
Gernander took over as coach of the Fargo-Moorhead Sugar Kings in the Midwest Junior Hockey League – currently the USHL – in 1973, and coached there for two years. He then coached professionally with the Albuquerque Chaparrals of the expansion Southwest Hockey League for two years, from 1975-77. When the league folded in 1977, he returned to Greenway to run the Hodgins-Berardo Arena and the Greenway Recreation Department, and then became high school coach once again in 1983. During this time, he scouted part-time for the New York Rangers.
In 1990, he took the full-time scoring job with the Sharks, and then with the Dallas Stars. He has been in many scouting capacities with Dallas and he still scouts full-time for them.
Greenway graduate Tom Serratore, current Bemidji State head coach, said about Gernander, “Bob has had a tremendous impact on kids. It didn’t matter if he was coaching, teaching or running the rink. He has a unique way with people. He was inducted into the Minnesota State Hockey Association Coaching Hall of Fame in 1992, and has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a scout for the 1999 Dallas Stars.”
Gernander talked about his stints as a high school coach, for which he is being honored with the Mariucci Award.
“That first year at Greenway went pretty good,” Gernander said about the Raiders’ 1966-67 state championship season. “I knew most of the kids because that was the group of kids that I had coaching the B squad in the years prior. There are a lot of coaches that have done a lot of work, but you have to be fortunate to have players like that. We had some great players here at Greenway at that time.”
Greenway went on to win the state championship again in 1968, and then make the state tournament several times more under Gernander.
“It was just a great experience at Greenway,” Gernander said. “Coming from a small school, you had so much pride and tradition. There was so much individual pride in all the kids and what we were doing. I am so proud to have done it in a small community and with the group of kids and people we had to work with. It is not like my honor, it is an honor to all the people, the coaches that were helping us. It goes all the way back to Cotta Guyer and Jim (Slimmy) Troumbly who were working with the kids, and in later years it was people like Gary Murphy, Pete Jones and Warren Stolp.
“I had great assistants throughout the years. It is not just for me, I think it is for all the people and all the factors that we had in the community to help support it in so many ways.”
Gernander said coaches today need to keep up with the games because there are so many changes and so many new techniques.
“The players are getting bigger, faster and stronger and the techniques are so different,” Gernander said. “You have to keep up with those things.”
Gernander said he still enjoys serving as a scout and making his living in the sport of hockey.
“I would have to say I am one of the luckiest guys around,” he explained. “To be able to work this many years in hockey and to still be involved, I am loving every minute of it. As far as coaching, you don’t have the same experiences as you do scouting. We have the opportunity to meet a lot of great kids, watch good players and try to evaluate them, but during that time I really did miss the coaching because there is nothing like being able to get out on the ice with young kids and working along with them.
“You really miss that, you miss the games, you miss the practices, you miss the close relationships you had with the kids during that time. I don’t think anything can replace the times you had when you were coaching.”
Another highlight for Gernander was watching his son Kenny play professional hockey for many years and ultimately play in the NHL.
“Kenny was a small player and a little bit limited, but he got to play a few games in the NHL and he got to play in the playoffs,” said Gernander. “He got to share some great experiences playing with Gretzky and Messier on that team (Edmonton). It was fun watching him but it is just as much fun watching the grand kids right now.”
Gernander was asked how it feels to have his name on the Stanley Cup, and to have a world championship ring from the 1999 Dallas Stars, and he said, “I was part of a great organization with Bob Gainey as our general manager and Ken Hitchcock as the coach at the time. We had some great players, and on that team we had four guys that had been captains of other teams. So, it was an experienced and great group of guys to work with.
“The scouts got to go to the Finals and we flew on the team plane. It was a great experience and it is something I would never forget.”
Gernander said his career is winding down, but hockey has been such a big part of his life that he said it is hard to give it up.
“It is hard to get away from it. Maybe I will just go back to the rink and watch the kids again,” Gernander said. “I have four grandsons playing and three granddaughters playing and maybe I will get to watch them a little bit.”