This past Wednesday there was a funeral service for Brandon Gordon at Munn Arena in East Lansing. Brandon, a 16-year-old cancer patient, captured the hearts and souls of the Michigan State Spartan hockey team during his two-year battle with cancer, which he lost last Sunday.
I spent Thursday with the Spartans and several of the players talked about Brandon and his impact on their lives. Rick Comley, their head coach, credited his players and Michigan State athletics for its support of the team’s “Shoot For A Cure” foundation which raises money and awareness for kids battling this dreaded disease.
As Comley said, when you are involved in this type of endeavor, the unfortunate part is that you must be ready to accept that not every ending will be a good one.
Arriving at the JACC in South Bend Friday morning, where the Spartans opened a home-and-home with Notre Dame on senior night in South Bend (prior to hosting their senior night Saturday at Munn), play-by-play partner Matt McConnell and I received another dose of chilling and tragic news.
Mike Lockert, the longtime radio play-by-play voice of Notre Dame hockey, had died in his sleep the night before. Could any two teams be more wracked with emotion and tragedy in the same week as they prepared to play each other to end the CCHA regular season?
Mike was a terrific play-by-play broadcaster, a great colleague, a good friend and he loved Notre Dame. Despite always playfully rooting against the football team in South Bend (he was an L.A. native and was a fan of USC football), he appreciated where he was and he always felt fortunate to be a part of what was developing into one of the nation’s elite hockey teams.
It was five weeks ago that CBS College Sports started a stretch that had Notre Dame hockey on our air every weekend. That meant a great chance to be around Mike a lot, and Matt and I and Mike had a great relationship. Throw in SID Tim Connor and the four of us would pal around on Notre Dame weekends as much as time would allow.
I first met Mike at the Everblades Tournament six years ago, my first at CSTV (now CBS College Sports). Suffering from a sore throat, I saw Mike had a bag of throat drops and I introduced myself to him and asked if a) he needed any info on Maine or Cornell since they were teams I had seen already and he might not have, and b) if I could steal some throat drops because my voice was so raspy.
It started a six-year tradition of one of us making sure that we had a bag of those drops with us every time our network did a Notre Dame hockey game. The bag he gave me two weeks ago prior to the ND-Northern Michigan game is still on my dining room table.
Three weeks ago at Ohio State, we were all together at the hotel bar. Mike was telling us that he was getting serious with his girlfriend and that life was good, and he challenged McConnell to sing a song for karaoke. McConnell belted out a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone.”
When that was done, the table challenged Mike and McConnell to sing “Ebony and Ivory,” the duet from Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. If they had it to perform, they would have. We all sat long into the night talking about the game, the profession, college hockey, and life. How could we have ever known it would be, in Mike’s case, so short?
I had the pleasure of sitting in with Mike when he broadcasted the CCHA semifinals. He had asked me to do the color as he did games solo as almost all NCAA and minor-league radio play-by-play men do. I came to appreciate his style and energy. He called a great game. We paired up again at the Frozen Four, and he, Shireen Saski (another veteran CCHA broadcaster and friend of Mike’s) and I sat in amazement as Notre Dame knocked off Michigan and then gave BC a great run in the national-title game.
Following the Frozen Four and all through this season, we all talked about this year’s Fighting Irish, the Frozen Four, and how legit a threat ND was to winning a national title. Mike joked about how hard it would be to wear a Notre Dame ring in L.A. but that he’d cherish that opportunity if it happened. The Frozen Four is Washington D.C. this April, and I was looking forward to sitting in with Mike again.
Friday I’m doing the game, as I always do, for CBS College Sports as the analyst. I’ll be between the benches and it will be a little surreal to be standing between the benches of two teams who this week bid goodbye to someone who was a large part of their everyday lives.
Brandon Gordon got to see his heroes win a national title. Mike Lockert watched a team that won five games three years ago play for a national title last April.
While both have left us, their teams will continue to do what made each of them feel blessed to be at the rink every day. They’ll put on their skates, meet at center ice, face off, and play the game they love to the best of their ability. They’ll do on-ice what Brandon and Mike did off-ice every day, bring enthusiasm and passion to whatever they did in life.
They’ll play their best, control what they can control, and do what they love to do. And every time they do that, they’ll remember two special people who loved to watch them do it.