On the ice the Seattle Thunderbirds hoisted a trophy while their fans whooped and cheered but down under the stands there was quiet silence, hugs and teary-eyed young men.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the Brandt Centre, the 2016-17 Regina Pats played their final game together: a 4-3 overtime loss to a team that posed quite a challenge through the entire championship series.
Head coach John Paddock had a short, simple message for his team after the game.
“I think I said something like ‘losing hurts, it really hurts,’ and they were really hurting at the time and for a little while, and I said ‘maybe that’s something that helps you next year, or five years or ten years in the playoffs at a different level’ and that was it.”
“It was sort of like what could you say? We had a great year, it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” he said.
After three games in their opponent’s barn, the Pats were hoping for a reverse of fortunes as they returned to Regina for the close of the series. The team trailed three games to two, but they had come back from worse.
“They were relentless and that’s part of the reason they’re holding the trophy and we’re not,” said Pats captain Adam Brooks, who played his last game in a Pats jersey on Sunday night.
Relentless was a good way to put it.
All series long, no Pats lead was safe and game six was no exception.
After going through the first two periods, with just a goal each, the third period was coming up Pats in a big way. First Josh Mahura found the back of the net, then Austin Wagner with his magnificent speed scored a breakaway goal.
The Pats were up 3-1 with a little less than seven minutes remaining.
That’s when they started thinking positively, according to defenceman Connor Hobbs.
“We didn’t get ahead of ourselves, but we were excited. I thought we played a heck of a game and it just wasn’t there,” Hobbs said.
Seattle countered the Pats’ goals with ones from Ryan Gropp and then Keegan Kolesar. The game, as it had two previous times, was forced into overtime.
Twelves minutes in, with good chances on both sides, Alexander True ended it for his team. Bodies piled off the bench and helmets and gloves flew.
Mere feet away Tyler Brown and Connor Hobbs collapsed in front of a net knocked off its kilter. Both laid there for a while.
On the Pats bench, heads bowed down in sadness and disbelief, but Dawson Leedahl, who also played his last game in the WHL that night, skated towards his teammates in front of the net to offer comfort.
For Leedahl, Brooks and Harrison, Sunday night marked the end of a long WHL journey that didn’t end quite as they had hoped.
“There were teammates that I played with before, when I was a young guy, that were here tonight and all the things that kind of happened in your career, all the friendships you make, you know, it’s tough, it’s tough to see it all go,” Brooks said.
Then, as if to affirm to himself and to all the fans that watched him play for the Pats his entire five-year career, he added one more thing.
“I’ll always be a Pat at heart and I’ll always call Regina my home.”