The Yorkton Terriers held their annual awards banquet to a packed house at the Gallagher Centre Convention Centre recently.
While the night was about honouring this season's edition of the Yorkton Terriers, who won the Sherwood Conference before bowing out in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League final, it was also a chance for club president Lyle Walsh to reflect on the season past.
"The 2009/2010 season was a very interesting one. A very successful one. This season included almost everything one could imagine. It had its moments, its highs, its lows, its reasons to celebrate, to enjoy, to worry and its moments of sadness," he said.
The successes of course culminated with four rounds of playoff action, said Walsh.
"What a treat it is tonight to be at this banquet in the later part of April after many successful rounds in the playoffs compared to the last few seasons where we all wondered what went wrong after losing in the first round," he said.
Walsh said there were reasons for a better season, and it started with the players.
"In my humble opinion this year was better for a number of reasons. First, the calibre of young men on this team was incredible. They believed, they worked hard, they wanted a success story. Right from the beginning they were in it for the long haul," he said.
While the end of the season was a highlight, early on Walsh admitted things were not going as fans would have hoped.
"We had our struggles in the first part of the season, we seemed to be under-achieving, yet everyone agreed we were a better team," he said.
"A common thread within the team was that they always had the same story. We can do better, we can beat those guys. The attitude of the players was one of a winning team even though on lots of nights they weren't winning."
Walsh said a personal highlight of the season came on a later season trip north to Flin Flon with the team.
"It was this weekend where I got to really appreciate the calibre of men that were on this team and the class act and professionalism and character that I saw in Trent Cassan.
I had never been to a game in Flin Flon before and some of our players hadn't been there either. I was looking forward to whatever might happen. I always wanted to be on the bench in a game situation so on the bus on the way up Trent made arrangements for me to be the stick boy, or so I thought."
Walsh said the Flin Flon rink is an intimidating place because of its history.
"We go to the rink early and dropped of the equipment. While there we spent some time in the rink looking over their Wall of Fame. Observing the hundreds of pictures of Alumni and getting familiar with the place," he said.Heading to the ice for his first time on a Junior bench was both special and nerve-wracking for Walsh.
"I could tell within the team there was a sense of nervousness, a bit of caution and some intimidation about playing in the Flin Flon rink. Later on in the dressing room some moments before game time, Trent was giving some last minute instructions and it's time to get on the ice. The players skate out. Trent and I walk onto the ice headed for the bench. I'm really hoping I don't fall. Please don't fall. I do slip, but being close enough to the boards I'm able to steady myself and make it to the bench. The puck drops and away we go. The first 10 minutes or so were just a blur, lots of chatter, players jumping the boards, lines changes, so much action I was just standing there trying to absorb what was going on. Finally I got in the groove and was able to keep up somewhat at least as play continued. The mood of the players was positive, there was lots of chatter and they were determined. It was a great game, fast, hard-hitting, Flin Flon fans were very involved. The end of the
night the Terriers win. What a game to witness from the bench," he said.
Game two of the weekend set in the northern Manitoba community was another one which left an impression on Walsh.
"Game Two approaches, same game plan as last night. You know Flin Flon is going to be coming on strong, says Trent. Be ready. But things don't go as smoothly. We are down early, two or three goals. Second period, for a change, Trent sends Luke Boechler in to give Devin Peters a much deserved rest. Luke plays an awesome game. He shuts the door on Flin Flon and they score no more goals. The Terriers come on strong and get some goals, they're catching up. It's now a one-goal game. The Terriers are putting on lots of pressure and time is the main concern. The buzzer sounds, the Terriers lose by a goal," he said.
While the Terriers only got a split in Flin Flon, Walsh said he felt it was something of a season turning point for the team.
"I think on this weekend they win big in other departments. They become closer, they work harder, they start to see more of what they can accomplish," he said.
The turn-around would hit a big bump in the road though.
"Two or three days later I get a call from Trent that Luke is seeing a doctor. Soon again another. Luke has leukemia, he's off to the hospital," said Walsh.
"We gather the team that evening to explain to them what's happened. Again this team faces more adversity. The announcement hits hard. The boys are shaken hard. This is a tough day.
"Word gets back to us on Luke's diagnosis and his progress. Everyone is cheering and praying for Luke."
From the disappointing news grew a rallying cry for both Boechler and the Terriers; 'You will not win because I will not lose'.
"Luke in his illness is now our inspiration. We'll do it for Luke," said Walsh.
"Luke never dresses for another game, however he is present at every game. I don't know if you realize it Luke, but I know that there were many wins because you were still such an important part of the team. Your winning attitude, your positive approach and your class was and is an example for all to follow. You kept pushing the team to do better and they did."
The season then starts to change.
"The season is turning around and the Terriers are winning more games. They are improving in almost every aspect," said Walsh.
The Terriers finish fifth in the Sherwood.
"Playoffs start with us in a Survivor Series and no one gives us a chance against Melville. We know what happens," said Walsh.
From there, the playoffs become something of a Cinderella run.
"Next comes Weyburn, we were told we were lucky against Melville but Weyburn will show us. We know what happens. You won't beat the fast, quick sharp Kindersley team we were told. We know what happens. While fans are doubting the ability, the team is building more and more confidence all the time," said Walsh.
The victory over Kindersley put the Terriers in the league final against LaRonge.
"I had never been to a game there before either. Probably a good thing. It's an experience. Again, a great series in which it could have been ours. What a playoff run, what a season. ," he said.