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Trying to go on without them Heartbroken loved ones face with sorrow a day that had been filled with joyful plans

Maddy Loftus was supposed to hit the ice at Buffalo State College at an alumni reunion hockey game and grab food with friends at Pano's and the Anchor Bar, two favorite Buffalo haunts from her college days.

Lorin Maurer was supposed to be at her boyfriend's side as his brother got married at St. Louis Catholic Church in downtown Buffalo.

Beverly Eckert was supposed to present a scholarship to a Canisius High School student with a scholarship in honor of her late husband who was killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, meet with her fellow alumni at Sacred Heart Academy to plan their reunion, and join her husband's family for dinner to mark what would have been his 58th birthday.

Instead, on this weekend that was supposed to be about candy hearts and a delightful extra day off for Presidents Day, the loved ones of those killed in the Thursday night crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 faced the sad, heartbreaking task of going about their plans without them.

>Maddy's game

At noon Saturday, Maddy Loftus' old college friends and fellow members of the women's hockey team took to the ice at the Buffalo State rink. For a day and a half, they had shared their grief and shock over the loss of their friend. But for the reunion game, they set aside their heavy hearts, broke out of their team huddles yelling "Maddy!" and then played with all their might.

"I think this is what Maddy would have wanted," said Lindsay Welch, 24, who had roomed with Loftus during college. "She would want everyone to play."

She pointed out two Bengals jerseys with No. 10 -- Maddy's number -- displayed on the glass behind the team benches.

"They know she's out there," Welch said as she watched the hockey game from the stands. "She's watching over everyone."

Around Welch, several fans wore heart-shaped red buttons with the No. 10 and a little hockey puck painted on them in tribute to Loftus.

The reunion game was the first that Loftus, who lived in Parsipanny, N.J., had been able to return for since she left Buffalo State in 2004 after her sophomore year.

Her former teammates had made plans for a fun weekend together. They were going to play one game at their old ice rink, head out to dinner at a bar and grill on Elmwood Avenue and then dance the rest of the night away at a club downtown.

"Maddy loved to dance," Emma Wadsworth, a friend and former teammate, recalled.

Wadsworth and Jamie Overbeck, a former teammate who is now an assistant women's hockey coach at Buffalo State, were at Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Thursday night, waiting for members of the team to fly into town.

Overbeck was waiting for Loftus. Wadsworth was waiting for another teammate, Janelle Junior, who arrived at 9:20 p.m. from Seattle, followed 70 minutes later by her husband, James Junior, at 10:30 p.m. The Juniors went home with Wadsworth, not knowing that 10 minutes before James landed, Flight 3407 had crashed into a house less than five miles away.

Wadsworth and the Juniors learned the terrible truth when they got home and turned on the TV news.

"It was just disbelief," Janelle Junior said. "Just praying she wasn't on the plane. We saw it was from New Jersey and saw it was the time [Loftus] was getting in."

Overbeck remained at the airport hours after the crash, knowing that the accident had happened but hoping that somehow her friend had survived.

Right after the crash, there was talk of canceling the game. But in the end, they knew they had to go through with it.

"I think we had to play," Wadsworth said. "I don't really think it was ever an option not to. It definitely crossed our minds . . . 'What do we do now?' The more we thought about it, it wasn't realistic to not play. Maddy would . . . she would have been thoroughly disappointed if we hadn't played today."

They decided to dedicate the game to Loftus and all reunion games in the future would be called "Maddy's Game."

The women played Saturday before a small crowd of loyal fans. They were nearly outnumbered by the crush of local and national reporters and photographers for what was supposed to be a laid-back scrimmage.

As they played, the teammates said they couldn't help but think of Loftus.

"She popped into my head the entire game," Wadsworth said.

After the game, the women shook hands, removed their head gear, and gathered in a circle on the ice. They brought with them 10 long, white candles, lighting each before they knelt.

James Junior, a minister, led the women in a quiet prayer. Several wept, while other comforted the grieving with pats on the back. They wiped away their tears before arranging themselves for a team photo.

Wadsworth was later asked what she would think about when she received a copy of the photograph.

Breaking down in tears, she replied: "That Maddy wasn't there."

>A missing guest

The Valentine's Day wedding of Lauren Dunford and Keith Kuwik was held Saturday, though the day was tinged with sadness.

Lorin Maurer, 30, the girlfriend of Kuwik's brother, Kevin, was traveling to Buffalo on Flight 3407 to attend the wedding.

The Kuwik brothers' father, Edward J., a former Erie County legislator, said Saturday afternoon that the wedding would be held as planned.

Family members also told The Buffalo News that the bridal couple planned to place a single red rose on the altar at the church to honor Maurer.

>A dogged advocate

Each year since her husband, Sean Rooney, died in the 9/1 1 attacks on the World Trade Center, Beverly Eckert came back to her hometown to celebrate his birthday.

This year, in addition to marking what would have been Rooney's 58th birthday on Sunday, Eckert was to attend a ceremony at Canisius High School to award a memorial scholarship in Rooney's name.

Eckert, 57, also was planning to meet with a number of her former classmates from Sacred Heart Academy to coordinate their 40th class reunion.

Instead, Eckert's family and her friends in the close-knit communities of Canisius High School and Sacred Heart are mourning the loss on Flight 3407 of the dogged advocate for the families of those killed on 9/1 1.

But they also vow to continue with the events and initiatives that were important to Eckert.

"We are going ahead with [the 40th reunion], but it will be difficult," said Kathleen Delaney, a classmate and close friend of Eckert. "But I know there will be a lot of good talk and laughter, because that's the way she was."

The ceremony for the Sean Rooney Memorial Scholarship was to be held Friday, but it was postponed, Delaney said.

The scholarship was established in 2002 and is given each year to a gifted but financially needy student, if possible a graduate of the Catholic Academy of West Buffalo or a West Side resident.

High school officials could not be reached Saturday, but the school posted a note recognizing Eckert on its Web site.

"Beverly was a lovely woman who spent the last several years working hard to take the tragedy of Sean's death and have something positive come from it," John Knight, the school's president, said in a statement.

Delaney got to know Eckert so well in school because their last names were so close alphabetically that they often found themselves seated near each other in class.

Eckert was a gifted artist, Delaney said, and won the Voice of Democracy Award for a speech she gave as a junior.

"She had a wonderful sense of mischief, and she could drag anybody along with her," Delaney said.

Delaney last spoke to Eckert on Wednesday night, and planned to have her over at her home Friday night for pizza and wine and lively conversation.

They planned to meet Saturday morning at the Sheridan Family Restaurant to go over details of the reunion with their classmates.

Instead, as word of Eckert's death in the crash spread Friday, Sacred Heart classmates reached out to each other by phone and e-mail, and later met at the school.

Eckert was to receive the 2009 Distinguished Alumna Award from the school in May, and school officials plan to give the award posthumously, said Eileen Hettich, alumni relations coordinator.

"The award was to honor all the wonderful things she's done," Hettich said. "That's not erased because God chose to take her now."

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com and swatson@buffnews.com

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