I started playing with Sunrise Hockey about 20 years ago, picking up the goalie pads after a long hiatus. It was, and still is, a great group of skaters who play twice a week, Tuesday and Friday mornings from 6:30am to 7:30am. They didn't seem to mind a goalie who was both rather a beginner and rather rusty. And Mike was the guy in charge, even well before I got there. You know, the guy that holds it all together - collects money, pays the rink, keeps the maintenance guys happy and runs a tight ship on the ice. The sort of guy that, without whom, these sorts of pick up leagues fade away after just a few years.
But Sunrise Hockey has been going strong for well over 30 years and Mike was a big reason why. His presence on the ice was impressive too. A big guy, not too smooth a skater but when you got hit, you stayed hit. Of course, we play a nominally non-checking game, but, as I like to say, it is non-checking, not non-contact. And Mike was solidly built and not afraid of contact. His shot always tended to fool me too. Not a hard one, but he was always looking down at his stick so I couldn't follow his eyes. And it was hard enough and on target enough, to always make it a tough save.
He also took full responsibility for keeping the ship running smoothly on the ice too. When one player began to take things a little too seriously, he formed a committee and brought it to that player's attention. That that player chose to leave instead of reforming was his loss, not ours. And everyone I ever invited to play with us always wanted to come back for more. It's a good, hard skating, fair group of guys, formed in Mike's image.
When he stepped down to fight his cancer 18 months ago, you know how well he had done his job, as it has continued to run smoothly since. We were all confident he would be back on the ice, and his visits over the past year gave some light to that hope. But we got word the other day that he had a relapse and so his final passing this morning wasn't a complete shock.
But our locker room will be a slightly darker place without him, his spirit and his humor. And while Sunrise Hockey lost a great player, the world lost a great guy and I lost a friend and a mentor. I know he is somewhere right now, throwing thunderous body checks and riding herd on a fractious group of hockey players, right where he should be.