Just imagine spending thousands upon thousands of hours in the weight room and on the ice, pushing each and every day to become better … then your senior season is cut short, all because of a change in an NCAA financial aid rule.
Fighting through injuries, playing 101 games over four years together and all of it boils down to nothing. It would be easy to understand if the six senior Ice Knights - Jeff MacPhee, Dan Brown, Sebastian Panetta, Trevor Foster, Phil Rose and Dave Dobrinsky - were a bit disappointed coming into their last two home games ever.
You might think that, but you'd be completely wrong. Instead there's a sense of pride, a determination to go out one last time in front of what all of them described as the greatest crowd in the conference, put on a show and maybe knock off the top squad in the country.
Character, determination and honor were all put out there as the values that they would play by for the remainder of the season. In the end, the seniors said it doesn't really matter to them; it's about going out on their own terms.
Last year's overtime win in the playoffs against Buffalo State was one of the moments the players considered the highlight of their careers, along with beating SUNY Oswego on the road. "Their crowd is almost as nuts as ours so it was great to go in there and win," Brown said.
Panetta added, "For me, I'll never forget just coming here and playing my first home game. That was special."
Each player has grown in his own way during his time here. For MacPhee, it's a growth in maturity: "I certainly haven't gotten any faster … I think I just make better decisions," he said.
For Brown, the program taught him how to play hockey the right way. "I came from a juniors program where I had, well, bad coaching," he admitted.
Except for Foster, who transferred in from Niagara University, the group has been together since their freshman year. Foster said that despite his short time here, he wouldn't change a thing. "I love all these guys, I love playing here … I have no regrets about coming to play at Geneseo."
Dobrinksy echoed Foster's sentiments. "Geneseo develops great players, great men and great friends," he said. For all six seniors, the team has become like a family and a support system, something they needed when the NCAA ended their postseason hopes.
When the team received the news that their season would come to a close after Saturday's matchup against the No. 1 Oswego Lakers, every player said they had a different reaction. "I kind of blacked out for a second," Foster said.
"There was just a lot of disbelief and anger," MacPhee added. Panetta said: "I just didn't want to believe it. How do I accept this and move on?"
After hearing the news, the seniors met with head coach Chris Schultz and together, they discussed how everyone felt and how they would want to play out the rest of the season. "I felt really bad for Schultz," Foster said. "I think he just felt awful."
Despite this, the team has refused to let their seniors down. The Knights have remained undefeated since learning about the postseason ban. Rose summed it up, stating, "We go out and we've dedicated each of our remaining games to one of the seniors and we play for each other."
Panetta added, "We don't want to go out with a bitter taste in our mouth so we're just trying to win out."
Co-captains MacPhee and Panetta said they both plan on playing professionally in Europe; Panetta has already received Italian citizenship. Rose said he's looking to play in North America and for Brown, it's still a dream, but one he said he'd love to chase.
All that stands in the way of a satisfying, albeit imperfect, end to their collegiate careers is the next two games. Both carry plenty of motivation; the Knights lost to SUNY Cortland earlier in the year and Oswego is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation and is undefeated in SUNYAC play.
"It's going to probably be the most exciting game I've ever played in and even though it's not for any championship or hardware, it's going to be special," Panetta said. Rose agreed, "We just want to bury both teams in front of our home crowd."