Goodbye, Mike

Like many people who knew Mike Lockert, I’m struggling this week to come to terms with his death. Now I know what the grief counselors mean when they say that the first phase is denial, because I just can’t believe someone as wonderful and full of life as Mike is gone.

Mike, the voice of Notre Dame hockey for seven seasons, was only 43 years old. He died of an apparent heart attack in his sleep, some time last Thursday night or Friday morning. It seems so unreal because of his vitality. I saw him just a couple of weeks ago. He’d just become serious with his girlfriend. He was looking for an agent. He was looking for a tenant for a duplex. He’d just posted on Facebook about how he was looking forward to the arrival of the Michigan State hockey crew for last Friday’s game between the Spartans and Irish.

I simply cannot wrap my brain around this.

Someone else in the business who knew Mike wrote to remind me that at least Mike got to experience the highs of Notre Dame hockey these past few seasons. Another hockey friend of Mike’s told me that this is yet another reminder that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.

I do sweat the small stuff. I sweat all of the stuff, a major character flaw of mine. And I can’t stop thinking about bigger pictures, like how Mike’s death contributes to a framework for this season of CCHA hockey.

The 2008-09 season began with two incidents of violence when Michigan junior defenseman Steve Kampfer was assaulted Oct. 12, and Michigan State sophomore defenseman A.J. Sturges was assaulted Oct. 19. The season ends with the death of Brandon Gordon, the 16-year-old cancer patient befriended by the MSU hockey team, and with the death of my friend and colleague Mike Lockert.

Again, I simply cannot wrap my brain around this. My rational side tells me that the each of these events is distinct, unrelated; another side of me can’t but help to see this in the altogether.

Ultimately, I think of how I just moved to Flint, Mich., last August, and how much college hockey helped me get through these past six months – as it has in previous years during other transitions and genuine hardships. I didn’t know a single person when I arrived in Flint and although I was lucky enough to make friends quickly here, I was never happier last fall than when I was at Munn or Yost, among people who knew me longer than a minute.

And now I’m intensely grateful for Notre Dame’s trip to the Frozen Four last year, without which I wouldn’t have gotten to know Mike Lockert even better. Everyone associated with the CCHA knew what that Frozen Four appearance meant to Irish hockey and to the sport in general. How could any of us have known the real significance of Notre Dame’s improbable trip to Denver?

I’m just so glad that Mike was along for that ride.