by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
The final buzzer sounds. As the players pour off the bench to congregate around their respective goaltenders, the two opposing head coaches meet on the ice to shake hands.
It's the standard scene of sportsmanship at the end of a college hockey game. But just like when Peyton and Eli Manning are on opposite sidelines, or when Venus and Serena Williams shake hands at the net after a match, things naturally seem a little different when Air Force faces off against Bemidji State.
That is, when Frank Serratore coaches against his younger brother Tom.
Decades after growing up in northern Minnesota, these brothers are the only pair of siblings currently coaching at the Division I level. And although a theatrical story of an intense sibling rivalry might be more intriguing, the Serratore brothers — Frank at Air Force and Tom at Bemidji State — seem determined not to let their jobs get in the way of their relationship.
"We're close," said Tom Serratore. "We talk quite frequently. What we share is our passion, and that's hockey. It enhances our relationship."
Added his older brother, "It's not like when we were kids, and we were out playing against each other in the rink or playing home run derby against each other in the back yard. Coaching is different. He's got his team, and I've got my team. We try not to let that get personal."
The Serratores both played their college hockey at Bemidji State, with Frank graduating in 1982 and Tom in 1987. Though they never played together in college, they did have something significant in common, something that no doubt has helped them develop into successful head coaches: both graduated with teaching degrees.
But while the transition from teaching to coaching seems fairly logical, neither expected to one day coach hockey at the Division I level.
"It wasn't until after I got done playing that I started thinking about what I was going to do," said Frank Serratore. "If you go to a high school as a teacher, oftentimes there's coaching involved. I initially got into teaching and then coaching track. Now we've both ended up [coaching hockey]."
Added his brother Tom, "You never anticipate these things."
Understandably so. After all, they hold two of the only 59 possible head coaching positions at this highest level of college hockey — certainly a disproportionate amount for one family. And while they have been successful this season — with Bemidji State at the top of the CHA standings and Air Force, in its first year in Atlantic Hockey, above .500 and in fifth place — their paths to success are decidedly different.
Said Tom Serratore, "Once in a while, we'll talk [to each other] about different players. But players we're looking at are a little different from the players [Frank] is looking at. He's obviously looking at kids who will fit the [Air Force Academy] mold. We can look at a lot of Canadian kids, and they can only look at kids from the United States."
Bemidji State in particular is used to enjoying success, having reached the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons. And though it may not be the main topic of conversation at a Thanksgiving dinner, Tom Serratore has had the better of the sibling rivalry with regards to his coaching record against Frank. Since Tom took over the Beavers head coaching job in 2001, Bemidji State is 18-1-1 against the Air Force Academy.
And their recent success has spurred rumors and conversation around college hockey that Bemidji State may one day soon move to the WCHA, especially considering the well-documented rocky future of the CHA. After all, the departure prior to this season of Frank Serratore and his Air Force Falcons left the CHA with only five teams.
"[The CHA] has been a great league for Bemidji State and for the teams that have been in it," said Tom Serratore. "We're a great league for the growth of the game. The trouble right now is that there hasn't been a lot of growth in college hockey, and I don't know if we're going to see much growth.
"If you look at what our league has accomplished this year in nonconference games, it's amazing. We've beaten a lot of good hockey teams. It tells you a lot about where we've come as a league, the coaches in our league, and the kinds of programs they are running."
Serratore's pride in the CHA is not without merit. After all, the Beavers alone have five wins against WCHA teams this season. In addition, other nonconference highlights for the league include a Wayne State win over Cornell (at Cornell), a Robert Morris victory over Notre Dame (at Notre Dame), and a handful of triumphs by Niagara over teams such as St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Quinnipiac.
Still, with the future of the league in doubt, what about those rumors that Bemidji State may move to the WCHA? Perhaps it's too early to know.
"There's a moratorium right now, and until the moratorium is lifted, it's premature to even discuss it," said Tom Serratore. "Somebody has to propose a motion in the WCHA, and then it has to be seconded, and then it has to be voted for by the majority. So until that happens, it's premature to even talk about it."
Older brother Frank Serratore and his team are of course long gone from the CHA now, making the transition to Atlantic Hockey this year. And so far, with the team in the thick of a race to earn home ice in the playoffs, the transition seems to be going smoothly.
"It's gone well," said Frank Serratore. "It's gone as expected. We competed well in the CHA last year, and we were confident that we could compete in this league as well. We knew it would be challenging, but we also felt like we'd be able to compete, just like in the CHA."
Now in separate leagues, the Serratore brothers may not coach against one another as often anymore. But both have independently developed two flourishing programs and have formed the closest of college hockey coaching fraternities.
And when they sit down at a Thanksgiving dinner and see Peyton and Eli compete against one another, they can have some appreciation for knowing what that's like. Still, they also know something more important — that, no matter what, it's nothing personal.
And, as always, they'll meet on the ice after the game to shake hands.