When the darkness settled over the makeshift backyard hockey rink at the Sertich family home in Minnesota, Patty would flip a switch and flood the yard with light. Then she'd go back to the kitchen window and watch with a smile as her two sons and their friends tightened the laces on their skates and played long into the night.
Now, an ever-deepening twilight has again cast its long shadows over the Sertich family.
But there is no switch.
This time, the cold, unrelenting night will not go away.
Patty, 52, mother of Colorado College hockey players Mike and Marty Sertich, has an untreatable brain tumor. Doctors told her in February that she had perhaps a few weeks to live. Maybe a few months.
On April 8, Marty, a junior at Colorado College, stood at a podium in Columbus, Ohio, and accepted the Hobey Baker Award, recognizing him as the nation's best college hockey player. From the front row Patty watched, her heart filled with joy and pride and love, battling courageously against the darkness.
Thicker than ice
The Sertich connection to Colorado Springs is a marvelous tale of love, marriage and hockey. It began with a romance between Tony Frasca and Everetta Hartzler. They met in 1950 in Pueblo, where she lived and he was attending Pueblo Junior College, trying to boost his grades for a shot at Colorado College.
Tony eventually got into CC and became an All-America hockey player. He and Everetta married and settled in a home near the CC campus. Tony coached the Tigers' hockey team for five seasons and stayed on as the baseball coach for nearly 30 years. The couple had seven children. Tony died of cancer in 1999.
One of their children, Patty, met fellow CC student and hockey player Steve Sertich in the 1970s. Steve played for the Tigers from 1970 to 1974 and was a 1976 Olympian.
Meanwhile, Steve's parents, who lived in Virginia, fell in love with Colorado Springs during frequent visits to their son. They moved here and became the town's hockey ambassadors. The city-owned ice rink in Memorial Park -- the Mark "Pa" Sertich Ice Center -- is named after Steve Sertich's father.
After college, Steve and Patty moved to Roseville, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul. He taught school and coached hockey. And, of course, in 1987 he flooded the backyard to create a hockey rink for sons Marty, then 5, and Mike, 4. Their daughter, Sara, now 24, somehow fought off the bloodlines and did not become a hockey player.
The boys became standout players. Marty accepted a scholarship to Colorado College in 2002. And this year should have been the greatest year of all. Marty was named the best player in college hockey. Mike, a freshman walk-on, kicked off his own CC hockey career. And the team made it to the semifinals of the NCAA championship tournament.
No skates in the house
But in February, everything changed. Patty was diagnosed with the brain tumor in March 2004. She underwent two operations, along with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In February, doctors told her none of it had worked. The tumor was unstoppable.
Marty, Mike and Sara returned to their Roseville home that week. Patty told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "That was such a wonderful time for us. When all the kids were home I would get in bed for the night and then one or more of them would come in and we would start talking. There was a lot more laughter than there were tears."
Then the five of them piled into the family van and drove back to Colorado Springs, returning Marty and Mike to school. Steve, Patty and Sara followed the boys through the NCAA tournament and looked on in Columbus -- site of the NCAA semifinals and finals -- as Marty collected the Hobey Baker trophy.
The five of them returned to Colorado Springs last week, clinging to what they know are the final moments and talking about a lifetime of hockey.
"Mom had a signal with the spotlights in the backyard when Marty and Mike were out there playing hockey," Sara recalled. "She'd flick the lights on and off 10 times and that meant dinner was ready."
And she had one rule: No skates in the house.
"We'd put our skates on outside," said Mike.
"Or," said Marty, "sometimes we'd put our skates on in the kitchen. Then we'd crawl across the floor and out the door so we didn't ruin the floor."
Patty smiled. And then she closed her eyes as the memories rushed back.
"The problem," she said, speaking in a halting voice as she fought another headache brought about by the relentless tumor, "is that it all went by too fast."
Marty, a tough kid with a soft heart, fought back a tear as he reached across the sofa and gently rubbed his mother's shoulder.
Steve and Patty were to leave this week, heading back home to Minnesota as their sons finish up their school year at CC. The parting would not be easy.
"This time," said Marty, "saying goodbye to them is a little different. "
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