Hockey star's family donates his organs

MICHELE MANDEL --Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

Mike Serba's hopes and dreams died in a dark alleyway this past weekend. But the family of the U.S. college hockey star was determined that his legacy would live on.

"Michael was a bright, energetic and compassionate young man who proved to be an inspiration to those who knew him," his family said in a statement yesterday. "When our family learned that Michael was no longer with us in body, we did not hesitate to donate his organs to help others in need. We are certain this is what our son would have wanted. His organs have now been recovered to save lives.

"Out of this tragedy we are comforted that Michael's great many qualities of strength, determination, compassion and goodness continue to shine through beyond his life. As an eligible organ donor, Michael's desire to help others, as he always has, carries on.

SENSELESS

"We know Michael is at peace and smiling down at us while offering this most special gift."

If only he could explain why it was necessary. Because nothing about the 25-year-old's tragic murder makes any sense.

Serba was the poster child for a young life lived well. "He was as fine a young man who's ever come through this system." says Charles Crosby, co-ordinator of Norwich's sports booster clubs. "He was an honourable, great, caring individual. He did everything right."

In their small New England college town, Serba was something of a celebrity to the many who loved hockey. As captain last year of the Norwich Cadets, he was in the forefront of the team's community events and could often be found helping children.

"He led by example," says his former coach Mike McShane. "He was a great kid and all around great type of person you love having represent your school. He was a hard worker, both on and off the ice."

Serba missed hockey, now that he was in graduate school, but he was never too far away from Kreitzberg Arena. In fact, he lived with three former teammates.

But his goals now centred on Wall Street, not the ice. He was due to graduate with his MBA this spring from the Vermont university and had spent the last week interviewing for jobs in New York City. He had meetings set up this week in Boston.

"Things were looking pretty good for him," says his former hockey coach.

No one doubted that he would be a success, that he would make a difference.

"Mike was a bright kid with a really bright future," says his former teammate, Matt Schmidt. 24. "He was a people person with his whole life ahead of him."

That was the way it was supposed to play out. But last weekend, for American Thanksgiving, Serba had come home to visit his dad James and share a few pints with some old buddies.

At 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning, he had left a Bloor St. W. bar to get some cash from a bank machine. When he returned, he told his friends he had been sucker-punched.

Police said he and his pals decided to go back and search for the culprit.

It would be a fatefully bad decision.

Serba, walking ahead of them, was ambushed in a laneway and beaten so badly with a heavy object -- possibly a brick -- that he never recovered from the trauma to his brain.

Police say the attempted murder charge against Nicholas Crowdis, 22, is expected to be upgraded at his next court appearance Dec. 4.

What no one can understand is why Serba and his friends went looking for the suspect, rather than calling police.

"I still don't know the facts," his coach says. "He's not confrontational at all. He's very mature."

His former Norwich teammate is equally mystified.

"He's not the kind of person to go looking for a fight," insists Schmidt, the only Norwich hockey alumnus in Toronto. "It does not sound like something Mike would do."

So the questions remain.

MAKESHIFT MEMORIAL

A makeshift memorial of cards and flowers has grown outside Serba's university arena. So many from the Norwich "family" want to attend his funeral that they will use the hockey team's bus to make the trip. As well, Schmidt has been in touch with his former teammates, many of them still playing hockey across Canada and the U.S., and to a man, they have all committed to being here.

"It's the least we can do," he says.

There is no doubt that Serba's ultimate gift was the gift of life. But Schmidt believes his friend's senseless death has given them all another gift as well.

"There's a big lesson here," he says. "I've talked to all his friends from Norwich and we're all taking it in. No matter what, just walk away. You never know what's going to happen.

"If it can happen to Mike, it can happen to anybody. Unfortunately, it's a lesson that comes at such a valuable cost."


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