For over-age Victoria Royals, ‘it’s crazy how it ended’

You don’t have to tell Gary Haden, Will Warm and Shane Farkas where they would have been this weekend under normal circumstances.

“It’s strange to think we would have been either in Victoria or Langley for the first two games of the playoffs against the Vancouver Giants,” said Haden, from his home in Airdrie, Alta.

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But these aren’t normal times.

The junior careers of the three Victoria Royals’ over-age 20-year-olds ended prematurely with the cancellation of the Western Hockey League season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (The junior careers of WHL 19-year-olds, who won’t get one of three 20-year-old slots allowed per team next season, have also concluded).

“It’s crazy how it ended. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions,” said Haden.

“We had just finished a game in Kelowna, and a day later, it was all over. It’s not really sunk in, yet. I think the shock of it will come later.”

Haden is keeping in form best he can by playing garage ball hockey in Airdrie with his 16-year-old brother, Joey.

“I will see if I get the right American Hockey League offer,” said the elder Haden, a centre who scored 25 goals this season for Victoria.

If not, Haden has five years of education owed him at a Canadian university through the WHL scholarship program. U Sports hockey is full of former major-junior players. Haden said he would study education and is thinking of teaching as a civilian career.

“Nobody saw this coming,” said goaltender Farkas, from his family’s home in Penticton.

“Every 20-year-old in junior hockey imagines his final game. But this is what it is. It’s history. It will be something to tell your kids about.”

Farkas, who was the Royals’ leading candidate for team MVP before a late-season injury, said he will try to break in next season in pro in the ECHL or AHL.

“There is no set path. I will look for a pro opportunity somewhere,” he said.

“The goal is always to play in the NHL, but you don’t step right into it.”

Farkas said U Sports is also an option.

“We didn’t know that last game in Kelowna was going to be the last game of our junior careers,” said blueliner Warm, from his family home in Whistler.

“It’s disappointing, not only for us, but all the 20-year-olds in the league.

“There wasn’t a proper sense of closure. But there was a lot to be proud of this season in Victoria. Overall, this is a lesson to play every game as if it’s your last.”

It was a double hit for the Warm family in that twin brother Beck Warm was a 20-year-old WHL goaltender for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

“The consolation is that we are home together in Whistler as a whole family and that doesn’t happen too often,” said Will Warm.

There is more hockey in the future, but where is the question.

“It’s all up in the air,” said Warm.

“I am hoping an opportunity comes up for a pro contract or I will use my scholarship to play U Sports.”

All three Royals 20-year-olds said they, along with the fans, will return to the game with a greater acknowledgement of the value of sport in bringing people together.

“I think people’s appreciation of sport will grow after this,” said Haden.

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