Harv Falk was overwhelmed by the number of kids who filled the arena last Wednesday for a memorial hockey game in memory of his son, Michael Labonte.
Known by all as Mikey, the 16-year-old Grade 11 Eden High School student who loved hockey was diagnosed with brain cancer in the spring, and after a brief battle fought with courage and humour, says Falk, died Oct. 23.
“Look around at all these young people who have come here tonight. We thought we might get a few people out to watch the game, but we never expected this,” says Falk, the halls and seats of the Meridian Credit Union Arena filled with family, friends and the many kids who knew Mikey through Crossroads Public School, Eden, hockey, and soccer. “We just found out about this game about a week ago. Look in the stands, filled with all those young people. This is just incredible.”
The family has felt supported by their friends and church community from the time of Mikey’s diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of cancer, Falk says. He had been suffering some headaches, from being hit with a ball, they thought, but after testing and a diagnosis, “the prognosis was not good. We knew that.”
It was a difficult time, saysFalk, with friends, family, and their strong faith to help them through it.
Mikey went through radiation and chemotherapy, and “handled it well. We had a good summer together, with a lot of emphasis on family, and a lot of laughter. Shortly before he passed, a friend offered us the use of their cottage up north, and it was a real highlight for all of us, a fantastic week with his whole family, eleven of us, surrounding him.”
Mikey had become an uncle for the first time, with the birth of his niece, Lilianna Nelson, “and he was so excited, just thrilled to have her there. She was born in September, and that was very special for Mikey.”
Anna and Harv had him with them for nine years, this sometimes mischievous little boy with the knack for puns, the child who always loved a party, who loved to be in the middle of everything, “even when sometimes he shouldn’t have been,” says Harv. “He was very social, very outgoing. Whenever there was a gathering of friends or family, we had to drag him away when it was time to go home.’
His sense of humour and quick wit that allowed him to come up with spontaneous puns was with him to the end, says his grandfather Ben Falk.
“He said to me, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘one thing for sure, I’m going to be in heaven before you are.’”
As Ben sat at Mikey’s bedside, when his grandson was nearing the end, eyes closed, Ben told him he better have a big chair beside him in heaven for his grandfather when he joins him. “He was really out of it by then, but he looked at me with tears in his eyes. He heard what I said.”
Mikey would have been entering his second year of midget hockey with the NOTL Minor Hockey League, on the green team. Falk says because of the three-year age spread in the midgets, Mikey had played his last season with his older brother, Robbie Falk, and his cousin, Matt Regehr, and had loved them all being together on the same team.
“They really bonded, and Mikey had a fantastic year.”
A tribute the hockey association sent out to members, said “Mikey was known for his larger-than-life personality, his smile, and his ability to make others laugh and smile. He loved all who met him and he did his best to make all feel welcome. He was always quick to have a good laugh with teammates, and chirp his coaches.”
Mikey joined NOTL minor hockey in the atom division, and was a natural leader, the hockey tribute said. Although he wasn’t always the biggest player, “many thought he played a big man’s game.”
“As time progressed and his skating improved, he became a spitfire on the ice, a coach’s dream. His relentless pursuit of the puck was legendary. You could often hear the call, “go get ’em Mikey,” from the stands and the bench.”
In his final year of hockey, he was given the award for Most Improved Player, “mainly because he never quit.”
Before the game Wednesday, Mikey’s #2 jersey was brought out for a brief ceremony at centre ice, and many of his teammates from last season, who would have also been his teammates this year, on the Midget LL #1 team will be honouring Mikey for the rest of the season by wearing his #2 on their helmets, carrying his jersey with them as they “play on for Mikey,” the tribute said.
The hockey tribute said, “Mikey will be missed by his loving family, Harv and Anna Falk, Ashley (Jacob) Nelson with Lilianna, Michele (Jeff) Martens, Brook, Robbie, and Nick Falk, Oma Regehr, Gramma and Grampa, many aunts, uncles, and cousins, Katarina Regehr, Mike Labonte, and all who met him.”