To think, ten years ago Micah was starting his first “Learn to Play Hockey” lessons at Polar Ice Chandler…
I had taken Micah to a (then Phoenix) Coyotes game in the Spring of 2006, expecting that he would be bored and just want to snack or beg to go home. Little did I realize the hypnotic power of hockey over my son. Instead of whining and begging to go home or walk around, my six-year old son sat still, watching the hockey game with laser focus. He asked questions, “Daddy, what was that? Why did the game stop? What happened there? Why are those two players fighting? What’s a penalty?” This didn’t go on for just a few moments, or even a period–it went on for an entire three-period hockey game. He did not want to get up and get a snack. He did not tell me he was thirsty. My wonderful mood-disordered and ADHD-diagnosed son was in love–with hockey.
The drive home that evening was filled with questions about getting him on the ice, when could we buy his first skates, and–even on Day Zero–wouldn’t it be cool if he could have leg pads just like those goalies? Once we got home, Cynthia and I looked for a way to channel this positive energy. Before 48 hours had gone by, we had signed Micah up for his first “Learn to Play Hockey” class at Polar Ice Chandler.
Even as far back as Micah’s hockey career goes back, it was borne in the shadow of tragedy. Before Micah could begin his first skating lessons, the fateful call came from my brother: my father was in the hospital. It did not look good. How soon could I get to Chicago? While on the first leg of my flight to Chicago the next morning, the voicemail was left on my cell phone: my father had died. I arrived in Chicago four hours too late to say goodbye.
After the funeral, we all returned home to Arizona and Micah started his lessons…which became Mini-Mites which became Mite Cross-Ice hockey. Somewhere in his cross-ice Mite house hockey days, Micah rotated in as the goalie for a game–and never came back out. He was in love again, now with being a goalie. At the end of the cross-ice season, a few of Micah’s house league teammates were talking about trying out for real travel hockey teams. One of the house coaches, Jim, asked about Micah trying out for his Mite B travel team with the DYHA Firebirds…and the game began.
There was Micah, standing in front of the net, wearing his cheap little first leg pads, his bull’s head red facemask, and grinning from ear to ear. It was time for his first game–against the CAHA Jr Coyotes 99 Elite Mite A team. Nineteen (yes, 19) goals later, a couple visits to the net by Coach Jim to soothe a shell-shocked, weepy little seven-year old Micah was not talking about quitting–he just talked about how much he wanted to keep playing.
There were good games and not-so-good games. There were highlights and lowlights. But Micah the Goalie was born–as was yours truly, reborn as Micah’s Goalie Dad. There was Flagstaff, there was San Diego, there was the Sonoran League Championship Tournament where Micah, for the first time, got to play full hockey games, and where he first started to flex his hockey muscle. We didn’t win, but we got further than anyone thought, in decent part due to Micah’s strong goaltending performances–at seven years old.
For three years, Micah guarded a DYHA net. There were again highlights–Micah and his second-year Mite teammates winning the January, 2009, King of the Mountain Tournament in Flagstaff, playing four straight games without giving up a single goal and collecting the tournament MVP award. There were difficult times. After three years at DYHA, Micah was offered the starting goalie position for the team that had always been the enemy: the Chandler Polar Bears…and thus began his time in service for the Arizona Hockey Union.
For me personally, in Micah’s second season, I began my time as a team manager. Coach Greg once told me that he wanted to just worry about the on-ice issues. My job was to just make sure he knew where he needed to go. From that first opportunity, I became more involved in youth hockey–working with the DYHA Board of Directors, repeating as a team manager for six of Micah’s nine seasons playing travel hockey, becoming the co-director of the SIHC youth hockey league and then the co-chair of the AZYHL state league, and even becoming a board member of the IHAAZ state roller hockey board.
After a successful second-year Squirt season for the Polar Bears, Micah tried out for the Arizona Hockey Union Peewee AA team. His play impressed the coaches, and Micah received an invitation to play for the AHU team. Micah stepped up his game, as did all his teammates, going from a team early-on that was regularly beaten by anyone they played, to sweeping the 2012 Arizona Peewee Tier II State Championship Tournament and winning the state title–and a trip to Reston, Virginia for the 2012 Peewee Tier II National Championship Tournament. We didn’t do very well at Nationals–but we were there on the big stage. And Micah’s moved onto his next level of play…
Micah played for that Peewee AA team, then the following season’s AHU Peewee AA team, and then after AHU moved his birthyear across the Valley, Micah found a new home with the Jr Coyotes 2000 “AA” team in Scottsdale. A year that was as forgettable as memorable for numerous reasons. He helped lead his team to the final SIHC Bantam Major League Championship in Las Vegas, and then…
“You should have Micah try out for the Bobcats. They are looking for another goalie.” Nope. The goalies were pretty much set. “Micah should go back to the Jr Coyotes and play for Coach Jamie, a former professional goalie.” Nope. Due to internal politics, there was no home for Micah with the Jr Coyotes. “Micah should try out at DYHA. You know Coach Sean has always liked Micah.” Nope. Admirably, Coach Sean was up-front about being loyal to his goalies, and he already two in place. Micah wound up back at AHU with Coach Jonny. The season went well, the team almost won 30 games and got to the Bantam Tier II State Championship Game after a series of outstanding performances–but fell short, losing by a single goal.
Micah reached for the sky–and fell. There was no more talk about the Jr Coyotes or the Bobcats. Micah had been falling in love with vocal music and theatre. He started to talk about his future–not as a hockey player or an NHL goalie, but as a musician…in a band? On Broadway? He wasn’t talking about going to an NCAA Hockey college, he was talking about Julliard. He was talking about studying vocal music. On a dismal hockey trip to Chicago in November 2015, he entertained his teammates–and himself–leading them in Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’s Sherry.
December 6, 2015. Time Out with just over a minute to go.
In Las Vegas for the AHU Invasion of Las Vegas trip that I put together, Micah’s team took the ice for their second and final game of the weekend that fateful Sunday. With about nine minutes remaining in the third period, a short-range shot managed to find its way in between Micah’s thick chest protector and nailed him flush on his left clavicle. Micah dropped like a rock. I would have run through the glass if I could have. Micah eventually got back up and continued playing for a couple minutes, until his coach noticed that he was barely moving his left arm. We got Micah dressed and immediately headed back towards Phoenix. When we got home, Micah said his left shoulder area was really stinging. The ER confirmed it: he had a non-displaced fracture of the left clavicle. It would be 6-8 weeks before he could get back on the ice. In eight and half seasons of trael hockey, Micah had never missed more than two games–or even practices–with an injury…until now.
Micah tried to stay in good spirits. But something was not right. He did not talk much about hockey. He focused on his singing. He started talking about his future without hockey. I started pondering mine. Micah asked me to reconsider still doing so much for hockey if he stopped playing. He wanted me to focus my energies in other places–music, theatre, things I loved doing that I had given up because of hockey.
0:30 Left in the Third. The Goalie is Pulled.
On Thursday morning, January 14, 2016, Cynthia and I took Micah to the orthopedic specialist. We expected to hear that he still needed a couple weeks to heal–it had only been barely six weeks since the injury. The “good news” came swiftly–Micah was healed sufficiently to be able to practice and play again. I was thrilled! I knew Coach Jonny would want to be able to use Micah that weekend for the Cactus Cup Tournament, which I was now helping with. But Micah was not happy. It was a sign. I should have seen it. I didn’t.
That afternoon, Micah got in trouble with his English teacher and wound up in the school office. He had a psychiatrist appointment. He seemed okay. He ran home from the doctor’s office (we only live maybe half a mile from the office) and was greeted by his girlfriend. At 5:30pm that night, Micah and his girlfriend were laughing, singing and just enjoying each other’s company. I had to go to my Cactus Cup meeting in Phoenix. I told Micah I loved him and would see him at practice that night. He said okay, and returned to his girlfriend.
By 9:30pm, Micah was in the ER on a bed with a team of doctors and nurses trying to revive him… At 9am on Friday morning, January 15th, the pediatric neurologist came in to tell us that there was virtually no activity in Micah’s brain. Our son was all but gone. At 10:15pm that night, January 15, 2016, the Goalie was pulled from the game.
0:03 Left in Regulation
Here I sit. My goalie is gone. My frustration is mounting. I have tried to bury myself so deep that I can’t see or feel the pain…and the very mound I have piled on top of myself to avoid the pain has started to cause pain itself. I have reached the end of the game. The things that gave me pleasure in Micah’s name–they’re just not giving me pleasure right now. Tilting at windmills to make my son proud of his father don’t fill me with anything other than a growing sense of that loss.
The third period is over. The game has ended. I think maybe it’s time that I realize this simple truth and move on. Sure, it will take a few months to clear out my locker, clean my jerseys and gear for the last time, and prepare for the next chapter.
I will finish my commitments. I will say my farewells. I will figure out what that next chapter needs to be. This weekend, I will finish my last hockey roadtrip, and I will drive home alone.