Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Inevitable Goodbyes

At the end of every season we say goodbye to at minimum, three players from the roster. Every spring three players on every WHL team are finishing up their Junior careers. They are the three 20 year olds, the overage players whose eligibility has run out. It doesn't happen often, but occasionally that 20 year old is a player who spent an entire five year WHL career with one team. For the T-birds this season, that player is Nolan Volcan.

When the final horn sounded on Seattle's season at the end of Game Six against Vancouver, I thought, as I looked down at the ice and saw Volcan leading his teammates into the handshake line, what a remarkable T-birds career he had. And then I found myself thinking, you know, he may have just completed one of the best careers in the franchise's 42 year history. He's a former 2013 second round Bantam pick out of Edmonton, so big things were expected. He did not disappoint. In the end, over three hundred regular season games played, 100 goals scored and over 230 points earned. He added a franchise record for most playoff games played at 55. Some big postseason moments too, like a playoff series clinching overtime goal in 2016 against Prince George.

Of course the most important parts of that five year run as a T-bird include wearing the "C" as team captain this past season, winning a 2016 U.S. Division banner, back-to-back Western Conference Championships in 2016 and 2017 and the 2017 Ed Chynoweth Cup. That's going to be hard to top, so it was nice to see head coach Matt O'Dette, who had been on the T-birds bench for the entirety of Volcan's time in Kent, echo that same thought in postgame comments to mynorthwest.com's Andy Eide. “He’ll be a standard of where you measure T-Birds and the type of player you’re looking for,” O’Dette told Eide. “He exemplifies our identity and just an unbelievable career, he’s done everything. In my opinion, one of the greatest T-Birds to ever put on the jersey. Tons of him to be proud of and great legacy to pass on to younger guys.”

It's funny how there are some players who come through and you definitely remember their T-birds debut while with others it's all a blur. I remember Volcan's first game. When a rash of injuries struck the team, Volcan was called up to join the T-birds on their eastern road trip through the Central Division back in early January 2013. He suited up for the first time as a 15 year old for a game in Red Deer. Seattle lost in his first game and he didn't register a point, ending the game a dash two. I remember it because he played that night the way he played the rest of his Seattle career, with a tough-as-nails, leave-it-all-on-the-line, give-one-hundred-percent-effort-all-the-time attitude. He didn't know any other way to play and because of that, even as a 15 year old, you noticed him on the ice. For a couple of seasons he logged a lot of ice with Scott Eansor and Donovan Neuls and they formed a terrific shutdown line because all three played with that high end, non stop motor. But even after, first Scott and then Donny, finished their time with Seattle, Volcan continued to be a shutdown player while elevating his offensive production.

Volcan loves the game but he also embraced the WHL life. He enjoyed being with his teammates, on the road, on the bus, at practice and morning skates, he just seemed to relish it all. I'm sure he gets that from his dad Marty, a former Seattle Breaker and obviously his son's biggest influence. But mom Kathy was there too, probably to keep them both grounded. I'm not sure who will be next to wear #26 for the T-birds but the first time they don't deliver a big hit is when it will probably sink in that Volcan is gone, another big piece of the championship team putting Seattle in his rear view mirror...hopefully off to bigger and better things in his hockey career.

I think I heard Matt O'Dette once call Noah Philp the hockey whisperer, or something to that affect. He was alluding to the fact that he could put Philp on a line centering two younger players and it would always elevate the younger player's game. Philp would help bring something out of those younger players we hadn't seen before. Sort of like Noah's Ark as he led them in pairs.

Lost in that though is how Philp elevated his own game since arriving in Kent from the Kootenay ICE just prior to the start of the 2017-18 season. This past February, when Volcan missed time with his arm injury, it was Philp who picked up a good chunk of the slack. When Seattle's power play suffered, it was Philp who keyed its resurgence.

There's not a lot of separation between a 16 year old and a 20 year old but that extra maturity found in the older player is important. Philp had it and used it to help his younger teammates. Maybe it comes from being a younger sibling. His older brother Luke played in this league as well and I'm sure he imparted some wisdom to Noah. Philp reminds me a bit of former T-bird Tyler Metcalfe. They are two of the most unselfish, upbeat, positive players I've been around.

Sean Richards wasn't a T-birds very long, just three months. Having left a team at the top of the standings for one at the bottom, he could have sulked. He didn't. He came over with a reputation for dangerous hits, especially against Seattle. He stayed away from that until his very last shift, which was unfortunate, because I think with him in the lineup they could have pushed Vancouver to a seventh game. He wasn't a dirty player out to hurt his opponents, he just played the game with an aggressive, emotional style that led to penalties. He knew he had to change after his trade from Everett and for the most part he did, at least long enough to help this team get to the postseason. Seattle didn't need him to replace Zack Andrusiak's production. They're not the same type of player. They needed him to contribute in all facets and he did. Seattle doesn't make the postseason, doesn't have their second half success, without Sean Richards.

So three more players, three players with their own style, who all brought something unique to the table, finish their WHL careers. Three different players but all with a common goal, to become the best player they can be. We wish them the best as they continue on that path because it's not the end of their journey. Instead, it's time to take the fork in the road.