The Estevan Bruins were swept from the Sherwood Conference semi-final for the second straight year, but it was still a memorable season for the club.
For starters, it was the club's first season inside Spectra Place. Players, fans, opponents, visitors and the media raved about the venue, which is one of the nicest for Junior A hockey in Canada. Not only is it the class of arenas in the SJHL now, it'll likely still be the best rink in the league in a decade.
Spectra Place was a game-changer for the Bruins. Fans who weren't eager to watch a game in the Civic Auditorium were thrilled to attend a game inside Spectra Place. The Bruins led the league in attendance. The 50/50 jackpots proved to be a major hit, as the winner often pocketed at least $2,000. On a few occasions, it was worth more than $3,000.
The in-game presentation was also second to none in the league.
The season ended sooner than many would have liked, but the Bruins have created a lot of optimism for next season.
Three players are graduating this season: defenceman Dominic Perrault and forwards Derek Whitehill and Matt Dochylo. All three will be missed. They were all alternate captains; they all brought grit, energy and character to the team.
The team that the Bruins beat in the first round, the Notre Dame Hounds, had six 20-year-olds. The team that ousted the Bruins from the second round, the Weyburn Red Wings, have eight 20-year-olds.
The other playoff teams in the Sherwood Conference, the Yorkton Terriers and the Melville Millionaires, have six and nine 20-year-olds, respectively.
The SJHL is still the domain for 20-year-olds. The league is working to dodge that reputation, but when you look at the Bruins' roster, the results this season should be viewed as acceptable and encouraging. It was a good season for a team that played entertaining hockey.
Nineteen players are eligible to return next season. Dylan Smith, Cole Olson and Calder Neufeld formed a line that, at times, was among the best in the league. They'll be back next season. Josh Jelinski will return for a second year as captain. Connor Milligan was the team's candidate for the league's best defenceman award. Those five players will be 20 next season.
Tyler Paslawski, Michael Hengen, Zach MacLellan and Eric Baldwin are also eligible to return for their final seasons.
And excitement abounds for the players who were 18-year-old rookies this season. Tyler Kauk and Austin Yano formed the Bruins' top defence pairing, even though they were first-year SJHL players. Taylor Reich had a terrific freshman season. He quickly asserted himself as a top penalty killer, and he showed the ability to supply offence.
Tanner Froese scored 15 goals in his rookie season. Matt Brykaliuk showed the skill and the smarts that'll make him a top two-way forward. Ben Johnstone brought energy and grit to a fourth line role. Defenceman Tyler Poskus proved to be an astute pick-up by head coach/GM Keith Cassidy, and Denin Boesch was serviceable when in the line-up.
Goaltending has been a revolving door for the Bruins for more than a decade. But they might have finally found stability with two net-minders who were rookies this season. Steven Glass was arguably the team's playoff MVP. He has two years of eligibility remaining. Tyler Ross impressed in his two months with the club. He can also return for two more years.
There's also an impressive collection of 1994-born and 1995-born prospects who'll be vying for roster spots next season. There is another crop of talented local players waiting to join their hometown team. If the Black and Gold can secure three or four of their top prospects from Manitoba, then the organization, and their fans, will be very happy.
Next season has the potential to be another memorable one for the Bruins.