Coach Pete Tyma gathered his squad in front of the Lakeville North goal before its season opener against Rochester Mayo. The players listened intently while standing on the red lettering of the school’s “Panthers’’ nickname.
He offered one final message to his group after a moment of silence in memory of assistant coach Seamus Tritchler and senior goalkeeper Joey Dokken. Tritchler died of cancer in January while Dokken died unexpectedly in his sleep the first week of August.
“I thought it would be fitting if we started in the goal,” Tyma said. “We were there for a reason, Joey and Seamus. It was symbolic, and a time to reflect on our losses.”
Behind the solemn contingent, a large red “J” could be seen on the fence surrounding the school’s practice fields along Dodd Boulevard. At the far end of the stadium, the flag alongside the scoreboard flew at half-mast.
“Our players have showed a lot of maturity on how they have handled the situation,” Tyma said. “The toughest part is the constant reminder.”
Dokken was fun-loving, always armed with a joke and smile. A member of the Boy Scouts, he played trumpet for the jazz and marching bands and competed on the math team.
Tritchler loved coaching youth soccer and considered each player a member of his family.
“Joey didn’t care what group of kids you walked with. He lived his life and was very special,” Tyma said. “Coaching was Seamus’ passion. He was the epitome of what a youth coach should be.”
The players and coaching staff were driven to get a victory for the two of them on this Aug. 24 evening. But Rochester Mayo’s Gabriel Gauthier scored with 8 minutes, 8 seconds left, giving the Spartans a 1-0 victory over the Panthers.
“You never know what is going to happen under those circumstances,” Tyma said. “I thought we played pretty well considering everything.”
Senior captain Aaron Johnson briskly walked off the field after the loss, pulling the front of his jersey over his head as he shed a few tears behind the Panthers’ bench. He was a friend of Dokken’s the past seven years.
“It’s been a little hard getting through this,” Johnson said. “It’s tough not having Joey here with us.”
Fellow senior captain Calvin Sprung knew Dokken for even a couple more years. They were also teammates on the same club team.
“Our team is a very close family, and he was part of it,” Sprung said. “I never left his side.”
Junior Jack Prince got the call in net for the opener.
“There was a different kind of pressure,” Prince said. “It was a lot more significant playing for Joey.”
This year’s group also has plenty of other voids to overcome, just not as significant as those two. The Panthers lost eight starters to graduation from their 14-1-3 team of a year ago.
“We have a few different challenges this year, both on and off the field,” Tyma said. The Panthers are seeking their first state tournament berth since 2010.
No matter the outcome of each game or season for that matter, the Panthers soccer family always will feel a hug from Tritchler or see a smile from Dokken.