OUR OPINION: Gambucci’s 11th championship
Serge Gambucci retired from coaching high-school hockey after the 1970 season. That’s more than 40 years ago.
But his influence lives on in Grand Forks, in a way that suggests Gambucci may have had a bigger impact on Grand Forks’ culture than did any other recent figure. And the influence will long outlive Gambucci’s death Tuesday at age 91, too.
Think about it:
Imagine you’re describing Grand Forks to a relative who lives in New York. How many sentences do you think it would take before you came to this one:
“Grand Forks is a hockey town.”
Five? Six? Seven, after you’ve ticked off the standard attributes such as a low crime rate and good schools?
Hockey is a sun around which much of Grand Forks life revolves, and its changing seasons affect every family as their youngsters move through grade school and high school. And that’s true whether the young people play hockey or not.
Of course, UND and its Division I hockey program has had a whole lot to do with that.
But imagine a pyramid with UND’s hockey program at the top. It was Gambucci who built the next level down: the “Division I”-like hockey tradition at the high school level, a tradition that has built for Grand Forks’ schools the finest record in the state.
Of the 53 North Dakota boys high-school hockey championships since 1961, Central and Red River’s teams have won 41. ’Nuff said.
Now, picture the base of the pyramid: the dozens of well-organized youth teams, the ice rinks in every neighborhood, the way that hockey shows up in so many conversations and shapes so many residents’ activities.
That’s Gambucci’s influence. That what his National Hockey Hall of Fame record at Central helped bring about.
Hockey permeates Grand Forks like the sweet tang in the air over freshly Zamboni’d ice. And when Serge Gambucci went 10-0 in state championship games, that’s where the tradition began.
Consider this, too:
If Gambucci had been a tyrant, then he might have set that pattern among coaches who followed. But he wasn’t a tyrant. He was a leader, as his obituaries attest. He’s remembered very fondly by his former players, many of whom spoke in the past few days of his lasting influence.
As Central 1964 graduate Chuck Norby told the Herald’s Greg DeVillers, Serge “wanted kids to do well academically. He was about lifetime lessons.”
And partly as a result, sportsmanship as well as winning is a tradition in this hockey town.
Gambucci was one of a kind, and he amassed a one-of-a-kind record. And in trying to live up to that record ever since, Grand Forks skaters, parents and fans not only have had a thousand tournaments’ worth of fun, but they’ve built a one-of-a-kind community of their own.