The Oswego Lakers slowly exited the locker room one by one heads hung low. Each player received a round of applause followed by hugs and encouragement as they left the locker room. The frowns and disappointment of the players was met by the cheers and pride of family and friends who had made the long trip to Rochester to support the team. It was clear that this wasn’t just a team, it was a family.
All-Star wing and leading goal scorer Joe Tofallos was embraced by his dad with tears welling in his eyes, than quickly walked away to compose himself. Meanwhile his brother, teammate and president of the team Jack Tofallos gave a speech thanking everyone for the great support they showed.
The biggest cheers came for Captain Joe Demarco as he and brother Louis Demarco embraced for their final time as roller Lakers. Joe Demarco who has witnessed and was a key to guiding this team to this point, “he makes everyone around him a better player, want to work harder, and give that extra push. He’s a player that I have looked up to my whole time here at Oswego, and i can’t remember ever looking up to a non-NHL player before,” said Jack Tofallos. this was Joe Demarco’s final year of eligibility though there is hope that while he finishes his masters degree he will stick with the team as a coach.
The Oswego Roller Hockey Lakers have strung together some impressive seasons the last couple years. The team has made nationals for the past three seasons. In the 2016-2017 season the team was eliminated in the first round, 2017-2018 the team would make it to the second round but lose on a heart breaker in overtime, and the most recent 2018-2019 season where the team made it all the way to the final four.
The team’s road to success hasn’t been without its bumps however, the team in 2017-2018 faced brutal budget cuts when it was found that women’s club teams were underfunded compared to the mens. The money from all teams was moved to more women’s teams to balance it out. “We were already underfunded by the school, so the budget cut definitely made things much harder for us,” said Jack Tofallos. The team which often has to travel all over the East Coast to compete in tournaments, is forced to drive themselves and find and pay for their own hotels. The funding the team received was barely enough to cover league fees.
Because of the teams budget situation they had to turn to other means to raise funds to make it to nationals. The team posted on GoFundMe to try and make some money and a lot of money from their own pockets for the opportunity to represent the school. The team’s biggest mistake however came from their desperation. While trying to earn money the team took the opportunity hose a function at a local Oswego Bar. This type of fundraising first has to go through the school before using their name for an event, the school would have never permitted the team to use the Oswego name for a bar fundraiser. The team was immediately called into a meeting with the athletic department. “The school let us off easy, and only made us give the money we raised to the school. We were very thankful as a program that this was our only punishment and ensured the school it would never happen again,” said Lou Demarco.
The recent success is even more impressive when you find out that over this period of time the team has been unable to practice and hasn’t had a coach. the team only gets one tryout and one practice each year. The tryout comes when in the beginning of the year where the team pools together money to rent out a nearby rink where they get one look at who will come with the team to tournaments. The team is able to have one other practice when everyone goes home between the semester. During this time all the players will come to Long Island where they again rent a rink nearby a players house, and the players who can make it will come from all over to participate and will stay overnight with teammates who live on Long Island.
The Lakers were the only team in their league who plays without a coach. “Me and a couple other players (Lou Demarco and Jack Toffalos) took over the coaching duty, It was always difficult playing without a coach. There are certain things that you miss when your playing that you would pick up from the bench,” said Joe Demarco. The team had recently brought on their former Goalie Michael Boyd to be the first coach in program history.
Boyd was only able to make it to nationals to help the team out, but wasn’t able to make it to any other tournament over the regular season do to his work schedule. “Having Boyd there for nationals was a great experience. he was able to rally the team for a comeback victory against Denver in the quarterfinals and his experience as a goaltender payed of big time for our goalie Matthew Levy who stepped up in a major way for the team at nationals,” Said defnesemen and Captain Lou Demarco. Boyd is the programs leader in both saves and wins and was an honorable mention for the ECHRA All-Star team in the 2017-2018 season. Boyd hoped to play again this year but it was deemed his eligibility was up despite only playing half a season In 2016-2017.
Losing Michael Boyd however was not the end of the world, as with his exit came the entrance of freshman goalie Matthew Levy. The beginning to levy’s season was not without struggle, Levy allowed a total of 18 goals in his first three exhibition games. “His first three exhibition games were rough, he let in a lot of easy goals, but as soon as he got the rust out (warmed up) he was a huge asset to the team,” Said Toffalos. Levy would only allow 6 goals in his next three games and would finish the season with only a 2.71 goals against average (GAA), which was the fourth lowest in the division.
Levy wasn’t the only rookie to step up however, this would actually turn out to be one of the better classes in recent years. With freshmen Billy Bowling and Tommy Buddington stepping up to play serious minutes in nationals and providing rest for the team’s other lines. Senior forward Chris Hood said, “Both those guys (Buddington and Bowling) did great things for this team. There was never a moment where I worried about having their line out there.” Both Buddington and Bowling finished with five points on the season.
The Oswego Lakers elimination in the final four at the National Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships marked the highest finish for the club in their history. to get to this point it has been a long road for the program, “When I first came to this team my freshman year (2014) This team had a lot of problems taking the games seriously. They didn’t want to put in the time or effort to make us one of the best. My brother, Joe, Jack Toffalos and myself have taken great pride in turning this program around,”said Joe Demarco. The difference in the program is clear as the team, which has been around since 2010, had only been to the playoffs twice before 2016 when the team was only in division four. The team had never made it to nationals until the 2016-2017 team.