ERHS starts search for another high-profile hire, this time for hockey

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

A year ago, Elk River High School made a big push to find a football coach. Now the school will do the same to fill the boys hockey vacancy.

“This is a big deal for Elk River High School, and the Elk River community,” acknowledged Michael Cunningham, activities director. “This community lives and breathes hockey.”

To replace Tony Sarsland, who built the Elks into a consistent winner with six state trips and one championship, ERHS will seek candidates who “will share our passion and commitment to the sport,” as well as commitment to the kids of the community, said the A.D.

Sarsland, whose 27-year ledger included a 588-277-26 record, 12 conference titles and the 2001 state crown, resigned just before playoffs when told he would be investigated due to undisclosed complaints about him. Sarsland later rescinded his resignation, but made it official again Monday, just before the school board was to review the findings of the investigation.

The position is now posted until April 24, said Cunningham. Anyone interested in the position must apply online at

“I will want to complete interviews and offer the position in early to mid-May,” said Cunningham, who’s in his first year as A.D. here. He added, “This (date) is not set in stone.”

There will be an interview committee for the position, as with most head coaching positions, Cunningham said. Being a teacher on the staff is not a requirement, he said.

Ben Gustafson, Sarsland’s JV coach and a former Elk, was interim coach for the last five games of the 16-9-2 season. The Elks won four games under him before being ousted by section champion Duluth East in the semifinals. Gustafson hasn’t said if he will apply.

This will be a high-profile hire, Cunningham said.

“Looking at our past success, as well and the successes the younger levels have had in recent years, the new coach will have to live up to a high standard as soon as they step foot in the door.”

Last year’s search for a football coach, headed by then-AD John Barth, resulted in the hiring of Steve Hamilton, who had previously coached in Michigan and Georgia. Hamilton’s first Elk team went 6-3, ending a skid of six losing seasons.