COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s one of those wonderful contradictions of life that, sometimes, when time is at its most bleak, the human spirit shines the most.
This is the case for Patty Sertich and her family. Just another loving American family — a family that happens to be one of the most famous college hockey families in the United States. And which happens to have a mom with little time left to live, following a year-long battle with brain cancer.
Thursday, Patty Sertich saw her sons, Marty and Mike, fall short of the goal of a national championship in Colorado College’s loss to Denver. But Friday, Marty Sertich delivered a gift of a different sort, when he was named the 2005 Hobey Baker Award winner.
Listening to Patty Sertich speak is an inspiration. Staring down her fate, and using it as a tool to consume herself in the beautiful things of life, she already knew she had a winner long before Friday.
“[Husband] Steve read to me about Hobey Baker from the Internet,” Patty said. “I said to Marty, ‘Then I know who it is, it’s you.’ I didn’t care who [the winner] was, because to me it’s Marty. He’s very modest, and he loves his family. So to me that was enough.”
Patty’s story was kept private for most of the year, until a couple of newspaper articles came out just after the Regionals. They chronicled the courageous fight, the largely ineffective surgery and radiation treatments in Februrary, the resignation and acceptance of what lies ahead, and the determination to not spend the rest of her time in bed, rally around the rest of Colorado College’s season, and come together as a family.
“I told somebody, this past year has been an amazing roller coaster year, dealing with my wife’s illness,” said Steve Sertich. “And I said the boys probably had the hardest time, because they were away most of the time and going back and forth. And it’s been an up and down season for everybody in that respect, but we were glad both boys could stay in school and play hockey, and that was important for our family.”
Steve Sertich is a former Colorado College player. His brother, Mike, coached Minnesota-Duluth to a berth in the national championship game, and coached three former Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners. Their dad is a famed hockey name in the Colorado Springs area, and has a rink named after him. Patty’s father, Tony Frasca, played on the 1950 CC national championship team, and coached the Tigers from 1958-63.
“It’s ironic in a lot of ways,” said Steve. “Marty and Mike both grew up UMD Bulldog fans because of my brother Mike, and we have some great pictures when they were little of them wearing Bulldogs jerseys, and getting in the locker room and see Norm McIver and Derek Plante. … When Mike left Duluth, that kind of put the kaibosh on going there and Marty didn’t know where he was going to end up. And he’s lucky CC came back.
“It never entered my mind that he’d be a Hobey Baker candidate, even, at the beginning of the season just because we don’t think that way. And I think when he became one of the last 10, the realization hit us that people thought highly of him, enough to put him on that list. It really hasn’t hit us until that happened, and walking into the arena today really was amazing to see the whole setup.”
“We play it pretty much low key. One of the beauties of both [runner up and linemate] Brett [Sterling] and Marty is, they’re team players first and we were appreciative of the individual honors, but I think the team always comes first.”
When you ask Steve about his family’s struggle, the talk always quickly comes back to the hockey. No doubt, the hockey was therapeutic to the entire family.
“Yes, very much so,” Patty said. “Every day that my family spends together, it makes me happy. And just like you just said, it’s wonderful.”
Now that that’s over, the focus will become completely on family, and enjoying whatever time remains with mom. The way things concluded, with the Hobey Baker Award after a great season, enables the Sertich family to feel closure. They put on a brave face in public, they say they are at peace, and they are so convincing, you start to think they really mean it.
“I think now I can [put it in perspective],” said Patty. “I think when I was first diagnosed, I think it was very hard. But finally in the last few months, I realize that it’s not important to care [about] how long you’re going to be here. What’s really important is that all of my family is with me, and we love each other so much that that’s the important part. So we don’t think about the bad stuff anymore. So we have fun every day — we’re laughing, we go out to eat. It’s just been fun.
“A lot of people are finally saying that it’s wonderful that she finally found peace. … Look at all of us, we have each other every day. So we are lucky. We really are.”