At the end we can admit that Brandon was the better team. A lot better? No. I mean, three overtimes, Seattle had the lead in all five games, four times they had the lead in the third period and tied starting the third period of the decisive 5th game. Outside a couple of meaningless empty netters the goal scoring in the series was pretty even. The Thunderbirds actually held the lead for more minutes in the series then did Brandon.
But you don’t have to be better by very much to be a champion. You just have to be one goal better, one shift better or get one more fortunate bounce. In the end, the Wheat Kings were a determined group, eager to erase the bad taste of being swept in last year’s championship series by Kelowna. They are worthy champions.
You never feel good after you lose. You feel even worse after you fall three wins short of your ultimate goal. Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk has said it is only a successful season if you are the last team standing and hoisting that Cup. So I’m sure right now there is a bitter taste in his mouth and the mouths of those other coaches and the players after coming so close. The sting of the defeat will linger for a bit but in time I hope they come to realize there were many successes realized as a result of these past nine months, a U.S. Division banner, a Western Conference Championship chief among them, and hopefully they find some time to celebrate them.
I don’t know if this was the singular best season of hockey in franchise history, it’s right up there. It was certainly the best season since I started with the organization in 2001. They not only won on the ice, but this group won over the fans. They made the ShoWare Center a place to be. I don’t know that you can say Kent is now a hockey town. The ShoWare Center is more of a community gathering place for the fans that come from throughout the area. So I’d say, because of this group of players, Kent is now a hockey destination. And this team more than anything, with a few star players but mostly a collection of dedicated-to-their-craft, hard working grinders with a never quit attitude, reflected the soul of our South Sound region.
Let’s not forget that this franchise had to rebuild its fan base after the move down from KeyArena in January of 2009. I’m amazed by the fans that stuck with this team when they relocated. 25 miles doesn’t seem like a lot but with the local traffic being what it is during the afternoon drive 25 miles can seem like 25 hours when you are stuck in afternoon traffic on I-5, I-405 or the Valley Freeway. That’s dedication. You, the longtime fans, have shown your loyalty. You are the core, the backbone of this fan base and you are appreciated and deserve a stick tap.
But many fans from the Key and Mercer Arena days, for various reasons, whether it was the distance, the commute or something else, stayed north. Steadily over the past eight seasons the organization has introduced this game, and this brand of hockey to a new following. And this year’s team in particular, with what they accomplished over the course of the regular season and through the playoffs, helped bring together T-birds Nation. Fans are no longer saying “I’m a T-bird fan”, they are saying “We are T-bird fans”.
We don't want to let go of this unforgettable season, this team, this collection of young men. Heck some of them really are still kids at heart. We want to suspend time so we can come back tomorrow and see these guys play together one more game. For the first time since I began broadcasting T-birds games 15 years ago, I saw fans shedding tears at game's end. We want to see Smitty with one more push of the puck up ice, one last bone-jarring hit from Hauf, one more spectacular save from Bow. But this level of hockey is cyclical. Rosters turn over every three years. All we can do is hold on to the memories and wish those players moving on the best as they go forward with their hockey careers, with their lives, knowing once a T-bird, always a T-bird.
When the game ended and the Wheat Kings celebration began Friday night, the dejected and despondent Seattle players were stunned by the finality of the moment. Many were bent over exhausted. They were hanging their heads or leaning on their sticks, some trying to console others. You the fans then rose up out of your seat and without any prompting began chanting “Let’s go T-birds, Let’s go T-birds” over and over and over. You lifted those players back up. In time you would give Brandon their deserved congratulations, but in that moment it was as if the Wheat Kings weren’t even on the ice. You wanted to show your team how much you appreciated the season they just gave you; a magical season of wins and banners, highs and lows, thrills and spills that won’t be soon forgotten. Well done T-Birds Nation.
Stay tuned to this blog as I will be doing a final review and a look ahead over the next week or so.