It wasn't the ending they wanted, but the hope is they still will take pride in what they accomplished.
Phillip Zollo had a hat trick as Section III Syracuse topped Section VI champion Orchard Park, 5-1, in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division I semifinal Saturday at Harborcenter.
The loss ended the most memorable season in the history of OP Federation hockey as the program won its first sectional title in its first championship game appearance and was the region's last team standing.
"Right now, it's definitely a disappointment, but I think in a few days when the wounds heal, I think we're going to be proud," junior goalie Ryan Albert said.
That was essentially the message in the locker room after the game. Coach Josh Dannecker stressed to the seniors that they should take a measure of satisfaction in knowing they helped create a winning culture.
"I think as a program, a lot of it is about building," Dannecker said afterward. "We talk about that at all our levels — trying to build our program up and bring pride to Orchard Park. Put your school on the map.
"I know it feels bad, but in the long run they're going to be able to look back at this and realize that they were part of putting Orchard Park on a state level and recognizing us as a state-powerful team."
The Quakers were prepared for the mix of skill, speed and physicality that the Cougars brought, but it was still a tall order to try and contain them.
Zollo's first goal came in the second period, but the back-breaker was notched a few minutes later by Nathan Frye.
OP's Bryson Miller jumped on a puck that Frye turned over in his own zone. But Syracuse goalie Alex Moreno made the save. The Cougars came right back in transition as Frye scored to make it 2-0.
Trailing 3-0, Orchard Park got on the board on Jack Kinsman's power play goal. Kyle Flynn and Garrett Harp set up the goal.
Ultimately, Albert in net that kept the Quakers in the game. He stopped 31 of the 36 shots he faced, including all 12 shots in the first period.
"What a stud. He was absolutely amazing in net," Dannecker said. "That whole first period he was under assault and he was able to stand on his head and just keep us around. I just can't say enough about that kid. How he has grown into that role as the No. 1 goalie here and he really played well.
"He gave us a chance. You ask your goalie to give you a chance to be in a game and win a game and he did because we were back on our heels a little bit."
Albert said the Quakers can't possibly replace the outgoing seniors, but next year's team will return with the goal get back to, and win, states.
"It really hurts to lose this game the way we did. We had an unforgettable run," Albert said. "This is something we're never going to forget."
The Cougars advance to the Division I championship, where they will face Section I champion Suffern at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
The Mounties advanced after handing Section X's Canton an 8-3 loss in the other semifinal game.
For the first time since the state tournament came to Harborcenter in 2016, a Section VI team will not win a championship.
Section III Skaneateles will play Section II Queensbury for the Division II title at noon. Skaneateles beat Section V's Webster-Thomas, 5-2, in semifinals. Queensbury blanked Section I's John Jay, 4-0, in the other semifinal.