ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) – Saturday night, Elk River will play Edina as part of the Hornets’ holiday tournament. That means Tony “Sars” Sarsland will be behind the bench for the Elks, a place he has assumed there for 26 years. He is a hockey character who appreciates his livelihood every day.
The first thing you notice about Sarsland in the rink is the sunglasses, which for him, are a remedy to migraines.
“Basically what you have is really very light-sensitive eyes, it’s probably because you didn’t wear sunglasses when you were young, when the sun was really — so it’s a way of me avoiding, OK, the lights,” said Sarsland.
The real thing you notice is that Sarsland is a character. For 26 years coaching the program, he’s been doing it his way.
“If you look at the way we work, if the kids didn’t like us, they didn’t like me personally, they would never work that hard. If they didn’t like me, I would have been out of Elk River years ago,” he explained.
He’s coached some good ones, including the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Paul Martin, an “anonymous” defenseman.
“Paul Martin? I won’t tell you everything about Paul, but Paul is a kid that always remembers that he’s an Elk River kid. And without saying what I’m going to say, we have brand new uniforms this year. Brand new helmets, gloves, razors, socks, you name it. And I don’t know, they just came out of some place, let’s put it that way,” said Sarsland.
Sarsland succeeds because he loves what he does. He loves what he does because he loves the people he does it with.
“I could have retired five years ago, but I love to teach, I love to coach, but more importantly I love being around the kids,” he explained.
That’s what it’s all about — his mission and his life on the ice.
“My wife, actually my middle daughter named Saidie, she said ‘Dad, you’re going to die on the hockey rink,’ and I said, ‘Then I’ll die a happy death,” said Sarsland.
WCCO-TV’s Mike Max Reports