When the Christy brothers take the ice Thursday night at the state hockey tournament, they'll have a lot of fans in the stands.
Ray Christy, a senior and a St. Thomas Academy captain, and Rob, his younger brother, are both forwards for the Cadets, who play Centennial at 8 p.m. Their father, Ray senior, and extended family and friends will be there cheering for them.
But they're missing their mom Irene, who died more than seven years ago, leaving behind a network to help raise them. Irene Christy, 48, had been an elementary school teacher in the Minneapolis school district for 25 years.
"She was really a connector. If you can think of the most fun and the funniest person you know — that was sis," said her brother, George Turner. "It's kind of trite to say, but it takes a village in a situation like this. And people have really stepped up."
The Christy brothers learned to skate as little kids, when their parents would flood the backyard of their Mac-Groveland home in St. Paul to make a tiny rink, said Turner.
Ray was 10 and Rob was 9 when their mom died after a six-year battle with breast cancer. Turner said the St. Paul hockey community pitched in, driving the boys to the arena, bringing meals and supporting the boys, their dad and older sister Rose.
"When you reach the level of success that they've had, they've worked hard, but it doesn't happen in a vacuum," Turner said. "A lot of people have helped along the way."
And hockey has been a good diversion for the boys, teaching them teamwork and persistence, Turner added.
Both have been offered athletic scholarships to play Division I hockey at Colorado College. Rose also played hockey and is now a sophomore at Boston College.
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Turner said he's proud of how well all of them are doing. Ray and Rob didn't want to talk about their mom for this story, it's still too painful.
"It's such a profound loss," said Turner. "It remains prevalent in our lives. It's gotten a lot better, but there's a lot of heartbreak."
STA made it to the state tournament last year but lost in the first round. Turner said his sister should be here to see her sons play together.
"About three weeks before sis died, we were going to the lake together in the car and she was feeling terrible," said Turner. Her sister then asked him to deliver the eulogy when she died. Turner did as his sister asked, and he gets emotional remembering that eulogy.
"I said to the kids, 'when you shoot and score and light the lamp, your mom sees you. She's happy for you."