Geneseo hockey players team up with a youth club on and off the ice.

Hockey practice might not be the place where you’d think to find examples of what makes Geneseo a great community. But, when the team comes off the ice after practice, there’s a special interaction that occurs — one that’s been forged for more than 15 years.

As the team exits, they cross paths with a scurry of pint-sized hockey players, the Junior Ice Knights, whose eager shuffle turns into a gliding run when they hit the ice.

The 16-year-old youth club started as a community engagement effort by former head coach Brian Hills. It has continued under Chris Schultz ‘97, who has been coaching at Geneseo for 15 seasons, including the last 12 as head coach for the ice hockey team.

Youth hockey teams and individual players who practice at the Ira S. Wilson Ice Arena make up the club’s membership. The kids are treated to events throughout the season, including autograph sessions, pizza parties and “Skate with the Knights” sessions after home games. On New Year’s Day, the Knights kicked off 2018 by hosting an ice-cream social which included a tour of the locker room and other behind-the-scenes facilities. But it’s the day-to-day interactions that makes the relationship invaluable.

It is pretty unique,” said JoBeth Rath, whose sons, Liam, 10, and Ethan, 8, have been involved in the program for seven years. “The kids pull their skates on right outside the players’ locker room. They get to know them — there’s a camaraderie because the big guys stop and talk to the kids.”

Role models that can reach down and give you a high-five are pretty special.

Kids have idols, but when it’s somebody they can get to know, it’s different,” said Rath. “Coach Schultz does a great job. The players conduct themselves well on and off the ice. My kids hear players say, `Hey, I’ve got to go, I have class,’ or, `I’ve got to study.’ They see guys, with laptops open, doing homework — it’s not just about hockey.”

But the Geneseo players also benefit from their mini-counterparts, despite the fact they use sticks that are usually twice their size.

The Junior Knights club provides an opportunity for our players to cultivate relationships and engage with the young players who look up to them,” said Schultz. “It is a two-way street. Our players learn a lot about themselves when they get to know the youngsters and their families.”

The families attend games, including the annual Teddy Bear Toss, where fans throw stuffed animals onto the ice that benefit area children. The Junior Knights get ice time with the players, skating and collecting the toys.

They see the players’ role in the community,” said Rath.

That’s even more powerful than a Knights’ slap shot.

See more photos of the Junior Knights on the ice.