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Hockey Commentary: In Lockert, Irish lose announcer and friend

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Erik Condra’s eyes began to tear up when clips from Mike Lockert’s last Irish hockey radio broadcast were played over the loudspeakers after Notre Dame’s pregame introductions Friday.

But it’s not Lockert’s on-air catch-phrases or nicknames that Condra will remember most about the Irish play-by-play man, who died early Friday morning of an apparent heart attack at 43.

“When we were on the bus watching ‘Family Guy’ or some funny movie, he had the loudest laugh and you knew he was having a good time,” Condra said. “You could hear him from the front of the bus or the back of the bus. It didn’t matter where you were, you knew Lockert was on the bus. That’s how I think most guys will remember him.”

To say Mike Lockert was Notre Dame’s radio play-by-play man for the last seven years wouldn’t scratch the surface of what he meant to the Irish hockey program.

On most days, he’d be the only member of the media at practice, but he wouldn’t be taking notes, conducting interviews or chasing a story. He’d ride the team bus to road games, but he wouldn’t be using his insider access to divulge any juicy gossip on the air.

Mike was just there because he wanted to be. Because people wanted him to be. Because he was family.

“Mike was a part of our family,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “I missed my pregame interview with him Friday and all I could think about was the fact he wasn’t there. I missed him being on the bus on Saturday, with his giggles and his laughs about some of the bad movies the kids watch.

“Just his pleasant demeanor and being somebody who was around every day at practice and games, he was somebody you learned to appreciate just by the man’s soul.”

Mike was more a part of the team than he was a member of the media, but he did his job well and was respected by his peers, as several blog posts on uscho.com have paid tribute to the announcer he was.

On the few days when Tim Connor, the team’s sports information director, wasn’t at practice and I needed to interview Jackson or the players, Mike was happy to set it up – after a joke or two about how I hadn’t been around in a while, or about a movie he’d just watched, or about one of the players’ antics on a recent road trip.

With Mike, it didn’t really matter what you talked about. You couldn’t help but laugh.

“He was just one of those guys that when he was around, he made everyone else happier and always had a smile on his face,” junior defenseman Kyle Lawson said. “As it settles in, you just start thinking about the good times you had with him, what he meant to the program and all the games he did for us. We’ll definitely never forget him, and it gives us something else to play for.”

Friday was senior night, but as much as Condra and his classmates have accomplished over the last four years, Friday was about Mike. He’d been around the Irish program since before Jackson or any of the current players arrived, and he’d seen the team go through the lows of a five-win season and a coaching change to the highs of conference titles and a Frozen Four run.

Jackson said the brief audio tribute, which was followed by a moment of silence in Mike’s honor, was just the first of several ways the Irish hope to honor Mike.

The team wore “ML” stickers on the backs of their helmets over the weekend and will continue to do so the rest of the year, and Jackson said he is planning a service next week to remember Mike. A picture of Mike calling a game now hangs in the Joyce Center press box.

But for everyone close to the Irish program, it won’t be the sound clips, the stickers, the service or the picture that help them remember Mike. It won’t even be his jokes or his laugh.

It will be his friendship.

“I used to listen to his broadcasts and just laugh sometimes because of some of the comments he’d make or nicknames he’d have. But I said it the other night – it’s a lot more than the voice, it’s about the man behind the voice,” Jackson said. “He was very loyal to this group of kids and to this program, and I think there was a relationship there. More than a professional relationship, it was a friendship, and we’re going to miss him a great deal.”

We already do,?Mike.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The?Observer.

Contact Matt Gamber at mgamber@nd.edu