BEMIDJI -- After nearly 40 years away from his alma mater, Mike Gibbons has returned to Bemidji State.

The veteran coach has joined the coaching staff of the Bemidji State men’s hockey team as an assistant, head coach Tom Serratore announced Thursday. He will fill the position on the staff left vacant by Eddie Olczyk, who announced his departure Wednesday to become an amateur scout for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken.

“It was perfect timing,” Serratore said. “To find a guy this time of year is very difficult. We were just fortunate enough Gibby retired last spring and was available. He was excited and wanted to fill the position. We were very fortunate to get a guy of Gibby’s caliber.”

“Tom, I remembered, is a very good recruiter,” Gibbons said. “He convinced me how fun it would be to come back, and he was right.”

Gibbons is no stranger to the Beaver hockey program.

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A native of White Bear Lake, Gibbons played for Bemidji State from 1975-79, was twice named All-American and capped his collegiate career with a national championship in his senior year.

He soon embarked on a long coaching career by serving as an assistant on R.H. (Bob) Peters’ staff in 1981-82 and taking over as interim head coach during Peters’ year-long sabbatical in 1982-83. Gibbons guided the Beavers to a 30-6-1 record, a conference title and a berth in the NCAA Division II national championship game that year, garnering Edward Jeremiah College Division National Coach of the Year honors.

Most recently, Gibbons spent 13 seasons behind the bench as an assistant at St. Cloud State, where he helped guide the Huskies to eight NCAA Tournament appearances and the 2013 Frozen Four before retiring last spring. He’d intended to stay retired until Serratore offered him the chance to bring his career full circle.

“When Tom called me, it’s something I never really ever considered,” Gibbons said. “And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got to have this opportunity to finish it up where it all started and finish with a program that has meant so much to me.”

After his year as interim coach in Bemidji, Gibbons moved on to assistant coaching jobs at Northern Michigan, Colorado College and Denver, spent a season as a head coach in the BCHL and two seasons as an assistant in the AHL. In 1997, he became the founding head coach of the Eastview High School boys hockey team in Apple Valley, where he coached for a decade before departing for SCSU in 2007. Additionally, Gibbons was an assistant coach for the U.S. team at the 2006 World Junior Championships.

“Gibby has so much experience at every level, whether it’s high school, pro, or college,” Serratore said. “He has such a wealth of experience that we’re so fortunate to have him come into our program.”

Gibbons has already coached alongside one Serratore. He was an assistant on the staff of Frank Serratore, Tom’s brother, at Denver from 1990-94.

With the season starting this Sunday, Nov. 22, after a pandemic-induced delay, Gibbons has had some catching up to do since recently joining the team. The masks players wear hasn’t made it any easier.

“I’m finding it hard just to put faces to names. I certainly know all the players (from) being in the recruiting game for all these years,” Gibbons said. “I have to put names to eyes right now because everyone has a mask on. It’s going to take some time to acclimate to get to know the kids and for those guys to get to know me, but I’m all too familiar with Beaver hockey and about how the game is played here.”

As a former Beaver himself, Gibbons knows all about the program’s culture, and he’s glad to be a part of it again, back where it all started.

“I like the whole Beaver hockey culture,” Gibbons said. “Hockey is a great game when it’s played at the level that Bemidji has consistently played throughout the years. … What I like about Beaver hockey the most is that culture of relentless effort in the offensive and defensive zones.”