The unique experience of helping a team grow and mature, only to see years of hard work go relatively unrewarded is a sad truth for a handful of fifth-year Dinos this spring. After falling yet again to the Golden Bears from Edmonton, the burning reality that their university careers had come to a screeching halt was an unkind reality for seven members of the 2003-2004 Dinos men's hockey team--like a sharp fire poker in the ass.
"You realize that stuff can't be taken for granted," said Ken McKay, the team's leader in goals this season. "University hockey gave me a unique chance to play with many of the same guys for four years. In junior hockey you don't get that same opportunity."
Giving guys the chance to play together for extended periods of time is far from the only upside for the graduates.
"In terms of personal accomplishment with the team, I'd have to say it would be getting my degree this year," stated graduate Ryan Geremia. "You really learn how to work in a team setting and the time management you learn is something you can use at whatever you do in life."
For some of the graduating members, there were some impressive individual accomplishments that shouldn't go unrecognized. Both McKay and defenceman Sheldon Nedjelski earned the opportunity to participate in last year's World University Games. They also each earned Canada West All-Star nominations in their careers, McKay in his second season as a first team all-star and Nedjelski this season as a second team all-star. For Jeff Yopyk and Ryan Geremia, the national championship berth earned during their first season as Dinos is something no members of the current team can boast.
The team may be losing many of its core veterans going into next season, but there is still hope their fate will improve in the immediate future, especially against the University of Alberta.
"We took pride in helping to build the team, and hopefully next year they'll beat the Bears," said Yopyk.
While many onlookers would say that is just wishful thinking, there is a great group of younger players who will be given the chance to step up and contribute more with the increased ice time they'll receive due to the departure of many of the team's top players.
In the span of up to five years, there is more than just the occasional obstacle players face while being a student-athlete. Down to a man, each of the vets are quick to thank their coach, as he has given them the opportunity to play a game they love in return for an education. While Scott Atkinson has a lot to do with the success of the players, there are many others involved with the team to make the day to day grind somewhat smoother.
"Over the course of a few years, there are a lot of injuries and our trainer Bonnie Tolton is always there to keep you playing," said a thankful Yopyk, who isn't alone in his praise for the team's trainer.
"I'd like to thank Bonnie for all of her help and hard work ," replied Tim Lindberg.
Who would've known hockey players and injuries would go hand in hand?
Although none of the graduates achieved their ultimate goal of winning a national title, there are plenty of positives they can take with them. These players have helped in a big way to make the last few years both exciting and entertaining for the team's faithful followers, and continued to help Canadian Interuniversity Sport hockey grow, becoming some of the best this city and this country have to offer.