The Battlefords North Stars seasoon lasted 251 days, from fitness testing on the first day of training camp in August, until elimination at the hands of the Penticton Vees at the Western Canada Cup on May 6.
When all was said and done, they were one of only nine teams whose season was still going at the time, out of 132 junior A teams across the country.
So although the North Stars didn't qualify for the Royal Bank Cup, the story of this season has been one of belief.
After an 8-5 start to the year – which came after an early playoff exit last season – the North Stars went 40-4-1 the rest of the way and then 12-0 in the playoffs to clinch their first provincial championship in 17 years and just second in franchise history.
"I think most teams that start out poorly like [we did] after such a disappointing finish to the season prior, my feeling would be most teams, if not all of them...certainly don't believe and our team team always believed," North Stars head coach Nate Bedford said in the post-game radio interview on CJNB/CJNS after the team was eliminated on Saturday afternoon. "Right until five minutes left in this game we still believed.
"It's just one of those special groups where you always felt you were going to win."
When 23 young men all believe in a common goal and then go out and accomplish that goal over an arduous eight-month journey, it's truly special.
But when an entire town and city is also behind that team, it's another thing entirely.
"The fan support in Battleford is as good as it gets," Bedford said. "I'm not discounting what was done here this week [in Penticton] but you can't hold a candle to us. We're as loud as it gets, we're as committed as it gets and what a great place to be a hockey player. What a great place to be a hockey coach. When you have fan support like we do, I think that's helped us along the way. We've got fantastic partners and sponsors with our organization [as well]."
Immediately following the team's final game of the 2016-17 season, the focus immediately turned to the eight players who will not be joining the team next season.
The eight '20s' who are graduating are: Jared Blaquiere, Reed Delainey, Coby Downs, Kendall Fransoo, Keaton Holinaty, Connor Logan, Logan Nachtegaele, and Zach Nedelec.
"Guys that have been here for a few years and even the new 20-year-olds, I couldn't be more proud of their contributions to our brand, our organization and obviously [we] thanked them for their time," Bedford said of what the message was to the team after the loss. "There were some tears in the dressing room. We really thought that we could play here and at the beginning of the year, I don't know that we had that feeling. So we've grown a lot as a team and they should take all the credit – nobody else. If anybody else is taking credit out there, stop it. These guys deserve it."
Two '20s' have already secured scholarships to play college hockey next season as Delainey will head to the Rochester Institute of Technology and Downs will head to Norwich University.
It's quite possible others will secure college spots in the coming weeks.
Of course, it takes an entire team to accomplish what the North Stars did this year, and although the team never dropped a playoff game until the Western Canada Cup, that doesn't mean there wasn't adversity along the way.
"These guys went through a lot of adversity throughout the year and a lot of nay-sayers, a lot of negative talk about whoever it is and we just keep working and we keep our head down and worry about ourselves and it's a great way to go through life," Bedford said. "I jsut told them I was proud of them for always being themselves. Who cares what other people say about you. If you dedicate yourself to earning respect, you're eventually going to get it.
"So extremely proud of our guys. We fought right down until the end."
Although the fought hard against the Vees, the final score was 4-0 thanks to a couple of early power play goals for Penticton and a stellar goaltender performance from Mat Robson.
Even though the final shots favoured the Vees 38-23, the game was much closer than that, as most of the North Stars shots were high quality scoring chances.
"It was just a game of momentum and their goalie stood on his head," Bedford said. "I don't know that our guys could work any harder. It's absolutely incredible. [Joel] Grzybowski was great [in goal for us]. We were physical. We were North Stars. I think the score is probably a little bit lopsided all things considered but it's frustrating. We felt like we had a real good shot and we were in just about every game. Unfortunately we were just not able to do it.
"Couldn't be more proud of our guys. Couldn't have asked for any more. It was a great week."
While the North Stars season may be done on the ice, there are still a couple events on the horizon off the ice.
The team will hold its annual end-of-year banquet this coming Wednesday night and then the bantam draft will be held in Nipawin in early June as the team turns its attention towards the future.
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