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MEN'S HOCKEY: Longtime BSU assistant Gilling hired as head coach at Mount Royal

BEMIDJI -- Bert Gilling has seen a lot in his Bemidji State coaching career. A program elevating to Division I. A Frozen Four appearance. A brand-new facility. College hockey reorganization.

Gilling, an assistant for 15 years under former head coach R.H. "Bob" Peters as well as current head coach Tom Serratore, had helped build BSU's program virtually from the ground-up.

Now, he's getting a chance to do it again.

Gilling was named head coach at Mount Royal University Thursday afternoon.

"I am very excited for the opportunity to be at the helm of my own program. I am honored and can't wait to get started," Gilling said. "This whole process has been a blur and a whirlwind and now it's just turned into a hurricane over the course of the last 24 hours."

Gilling, 39, takes over for former Mount Royal head coach Jean Laforest, who stepped down in March for personal reasons.

Mount Royal, a university in Calgary with about 25,000 students, plays at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) level in the Canada West University Athletics Association. They play the likes of the University of Manitoba and University of British Columbia.

"It's a different level of hockey," Gilling said of CIS-level hockey. "It's college hockey. So it's the same age group, the same types of kids. But it's a unique, different type of hockey.

"I'll tell you, the CIS is under-appreciated in Canada. The quality has gotten really good. They have a lot of good coaches there and they're starting play well against American college teams."

Mount Royal is also unique in that it recently made the jump to the CIS from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) -- which is roughly equivalent of a program in the NCAA making the move from Division II to Division I.

That, said Gilling, makes it attractive as an up-and-coming program he can build himself. He likens it to Bemidji State's transition to Division I in the early 2000s. Mount Royal was very successful at the ACAC level -- winning 12 conference titles and four national titles -- before moving up the ranks.

"When I look back and reflect back on my BSU years, from about 03-04 to 09-10 were some of the most fun times I had coaching -- just playing in the old field house, and building a program and a staff. Doing all those things was a really rewarding and fun experience and I'm hoping I can create a little bit of that at Mount Royal."

The Cougars finished 7-21-0 in 2012-13 -- their first year in the CIS -- but improved to 12-19-0 in 2013-14. This year they earned a berth in the Canada West playoffs for the first time ever, falling to the Manitoba in the first round after taking them to three games in their playoff series.

In addition to some major differences between the American and Canadian collegiate games -- Canadian universities, for example, don't offer athletic scholarships -- Gilling said he knows it may be a tough transition for him and his family.

He's lived in the United States since 1995 -- first as a player and student at Minnesota Duluth and then as a coach at Bemidji State since 1999. His wife, Sheila, is a Canadian citizen, but his three children are all American citizens.

"We know it won't be an easy move at first, but Calgary is a major-league city and a great place to raise a family," said Gilling, a native of Alexander, Manitoba. "Growing up in Western Canada, Calgary was the greatest city ever. We're excited to make the move. Our families are excited too."

The move will be the first in Gilling's professional career. He was hired as a graduate assistant under Peters in 1999 and became a full-time assistant when Serratore took over as head coach in 2001.

Along with Serratore and assistant coach Ted Belisle -- who started as an assistant coach in 2003-04 -- the BSU coaching staff was the longest-tenured in Division I college hockey.

"I took a lot of pride in that," Gilling said of the fact the coaching staff stayed together so long. "It speaks to the chemistry we had as a staff, the respect we had.

"We all bleed green and white for Beaver hockey, but I think it also speaks to how well we were taken care of by the university and what a great life it is here in Bemidji."

A timetable for hiring a coach to replace Gilling as an assistant at BSU has not been determined, BSU officials said Thursday night.

"I know one thing: This job, with the building and the league we're in and how the program's come along, is a heck of a lot more attractive than what it was in 1999," Gilling said. "I'm very excited for the future of Beaver hockey. There's a very solid foundation with lots of exciting players coming into the program. I think in the very near future BSU is going to be making a lot of positive noise again."

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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