In Memory – Micah Lieb: 2000-2016
Last month, the Arizona youth hockey community tragically lost one of its own.
On Jan. 15, promising Arizona Hockey Union (AHU) goalie Micah Lieb took his own life.
He was just 15.
“Micah very mild mannered, very respectful of adults, coaches, other teams, just carried himself very well – quite mature for a boy of that age,” said Desert Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) coach-in-chief and hockey director Sean Whyte.
The Lieb family is well-known around the Valley hockey community.
“He was a very focused and quiet kid who loved being in the net,” said AHU president Stacy Shupe.
In a recent issue of Arizona Rubber, Micah said his dad took him to a Phoenix Coyotes game and within four minutes, he realized hockey was the sport for him. He went to Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.
He started playing hockey at age six and played ice and inline.
Whyte said as a goaltender Lieb was “steady” and “unwavering.”
“He rarely got rattled,” Whyte said. “You’d put 40, 50 shots on him and after the game, you’d shake your head. He was always very respectful, with a smile and a handshake. He was just never, never a person that really said anything negative about anybody.”
Many in the hockey community miss Lieb, who also loved to sing with his choir.
“I think it weighs on a lot of the kids’ hearts, whether they played him or went to camp with him,” Shupe said. “I think a lot of kids are having a tough time with the situation.”
Whyte said there are some players in DYHA that were really close to Lieb, who played there while father, David, was on the Board of Directors until he changed teams.
“There’s a few players on the team that I coach that played with him years ago and I’ve seen that they’ve signed up for the charity game to play in the game to honor Micah,” Whyte said. “So I think they’re all trying to handle it in their own way.”
The Arizona hockey community’s response to Lieb’s death has been pretty clear: lots of support for the grieving family.
“The entire youth hockey community here in Arizona was very shocked by the news and the events,” said Jr. Coyotes’ director Of Elite Hockey Mike DeAngelis. “I think that many people, if not all people, knew Micah and his family and we’re just very saddened and surprised by all the events that happened, but he had a lot of friends and a lot of people that knew him and they’re a big family in the youth hockey community here.”
The Phoenix Knights Junior A team in the Western States Hockey League donated all the ticket sales proceeds ($3800) from their game against the El Paso Rhinos on Jan. 22 to the Micah Lieb Memorial GoFundMe campaign.
“From our perspective, we wanted to make sure that we sort of took care of our own,” Shupe said. “With respect to the rest of the hockey community’s response, it’s kind of been overwhelming and amazing.”
In the first 19 days, 286 people donated to a GoFundMe account for Micah’s funeral and hospital costs. In another GoFundMe account, 50 people donated in 19 days and as of early February, 19 have signed up for “Take Them A Meal” for the Lieb family.
“The hockey community has definitely pulled together,” Whyte said. “The logo on the front of the jersey is a moot point because it’s a brotherhood because of the fact that we all put on the skates and play the game.”
On Feb. 27, the NHL Coyotes Alumni will play against 20 youth hockey players (born in 2000 and before) at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe with all proceeds to benefit the Lieb family.
“We’ve always had a very strong mutual respect for one another and when I heard what happened, my heart obviously just broke,” Whyte said. “We needed to do something to honor Micah, but also to help support the family because obviously, I think that everyone realizes how expensive something like this can end up being.”
Wildcat Youth Hockey Association (WYHA) of Tucson president Ryan DeJoe said he’s found the Arizona hockey community to be “extremely cordial and friendly.” He said the WYHA has players that play for Gilbert teams and the Arizona Lady Coyotes.
“I found it to be a close-knit unit and it’s not like where I grew up in Ohio, where you kind of had your separate towns and your separate rinks and they were their own entities and they maybe played each other, but that was about it,” DeJoe said. “Here, kids are going out for the same team, they’re going out to the same camps, they’re playing against each other all the time and they’re playing out at different rinks all the time given the groups.”
The funeral was Jan. 21 at Mesa Cemetery and was followed by a traditional shiva at the Lieb home in Gilbert.
“I think the hockey community is a very small, tight-knit group,” Shupe said. “I think this situation has probably proved that, regardless of what situation or colors you wear, we all stick by each other, regardless.”
Dealing with the pressure
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third-leading cause of death for ages of 10-24 and that teenage boys make up 81 percent of reported suicides.
It’s not just those that are successful that’s a problem. A CDC nationwide survey of high schoolers found that 16 percent of students reported seriously considering it, 13 percent reported creating a plan and eight percent tried it. About 157,000 youth between the ages of 10-24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries.
“It’s such a crazy world nowadays and the stresses that a lot of these young kids, teenagers are dealing with, you don’t realize it,” Whyte said. “It’s really hard to tell what the signs are. Someone like Micah held it in really well.”
Hockey programs and teams are focused on, well, hockey, so they try to balance the pressures of being successful with not stressing kids out, without counselors like a school.
“I know the coaches were very conscientious about talking to the kids,” Shupe said. “If they were ever in a situation where they need to talk to someone or were not comfortable doing so with their parents, a lot of the coaches felt that they wanted to extend that reminder to the players.”
DeJoe said individuals try and keep an eye for anything out of the ordinary, but it could be hard to do because a kid may not suffer from that when they’re at the rink because it’s one of their favorite pastimes and could serve as an escape.
DeAngelis said it’s important to make sure the kids are having fun.
“I stress that heavily all the time – that kids are having a good time out there – and I don’t want them to get too uptight and get focused on winning and losing,” DeAngelis said.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
— James Kelley