The SJHL's quarter-finals remain the nemesis of the Estevan Bruins.
Estevan was eliminated in the quarter-final round for the fourth straight year in a 2-1 road loss against the Battlefords North Stars on March 21. Battlefords won the best-of-seven series in five games.
"Before Game 1 of that series, we told the guys that if they worked hard – and the phrase we used lots was 'empty the tanks' – we could leave that series, win or lose, with our pride and our dignity," said head coach and GM Chris Lewgood.
"The biggest message for me was that all year long they played hard, and that series was no different. They worked as hard as they could … and to me, that was what we should take away from it."
The coaches and others in the organization are very proud of the effort from the players, Lewgood said.
Austin Daae scored less than seven minutes into Game 5 to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. But Cameron Blair scored with 85 seconds remaining in the first period to tie the game.
It remained a draw until midway through the third, when Blair scored what proved to be the series-clinching goal during a North Stars' power play.
Matt Gibney stopped 31 shots in the loss.
Two nights earlier at Affinity Place, the Bruins rallied from a 2-0 deficit with two goals late in the third period to tie the game, but lost 3-2 in overtime.
Blake Young scored both of Battlefords' goals in regulation. His first tally came 14 seconds into the second period, and the other happened with about nine minutes to play in the middle frame.
Daae scored with 5:19 to play in the third to pull the Bruins to within one, and Tanner Froese tied the game with less than five seconds remaining in regulation.
Officials discussed Froese's goal, suspecting that it might have been deflected with a high stick, but it was ruled a legal goal.
Less than three minutes into overtime, Stars' defenceman Kendall Fransoo's point shot found its way through a screen, and beat Gibney for the winner.
Gibney stopped 30 shots in Game 4.
Lewgood said Battlefords is one of the top junior A teams in the country, and it showed during the five games.
"They were diligent with the forecheck and they were hard to play against," said Lewgood. "Second chances were not available. They were the team we expected them to be."
Fatigue was a factor, Lewgood said, but it's always a factor in the playoffs. The Bruins went the distance in a best-of-five series against the Flin Flon Bombers, then played Game 1 against the North Stars less than 48 hours after the Flin Flon series ended.
As for the North Stars, they had a first-round bye, and were well-rested when they played the Bruins.
The series marked the end of the junior hockey careers for eight Bruins: Gibney, defenceman Nick Egan, and forwards Froese, Daae, Cory Kosloski, Ben Johnstone, Michael Sagen and Austin Roesslein.
"You could see the emotion on the older guys' faces, trying to extend their junior hockey careers," said Lewgood. "With that kind of emotion comes a little extra effort, an ability to dig in a little further."
Lewgood is hopeful that the team's 1995 and 1996-born can step up next season, and fill the production gap created by the departing veterans.