Locker clear-out day is an annual ritual with a bitter poignancy all its own.
For every team, except the champion, it is a time to reflect on what might have been.
As the Victoria Royals absorbed their 4-1 best-of-seven Western Hockey League second-round playoff series loss to the Kelowna Rockets, the finality of it hit forward Brandon Magee maybe harder than any other Victoria player.
The Royals franchise, known for the first five years as the Chilliwack Bruins, has been around for nine seasons. Magee, who completed his fifth season with the club, has been part of it for more than half its existence. In many ways, he has been the face of the franchise.
“To be known as that is a one-of-a-kind feeling,” said Magee.
The journey ended Friday on a spring night in the Okanagan with the Rockets, the No. 2 team in the WHL and No. 4 in the Canadian Hockey League, skating to a decisive 7-3 victory over the Royals in Game 5.
“It’s still sinking in that it’s all over,” said Magee, a graduating 20-year-old.
“It’s been the most enjoyable ride of my life.”
For the second straight year, Victoria made it to Game 5 of the second round of the WHL playoffs following last year’s five-game loss to the Portland Winterhawks. That established records for the farthest the franchise has advanced. But both times, the Royals seemed to have reached the upper limits of their capability against Winterhawk and Rocket teams loaded with future NHL players.
“This [Royals] team took a bunch of steps in the right direction and has the ability to get to where those two teams [Kelowna and Portland] are at,” said Magee, giving a hopeful shout-out to the future.
“I thought we had the potential this season, as well. I’m proud of our group. We showed a lot of character and resiliency.”
It ends with 39 wins in the regular season, second best in franchise history to last season’s 48, and a 4-1 first-round playoff victory over the Prince George Cougars before another Game 5 exit in the second round.
With 20-year-olds Magee, forward Austin Carroll and blueliner Travis Brown graduating from junior hockey and only three of Victoria’s seven 19-year-olds allowed to return, it’s guaranteed to be a much different Royals team in September.
Meanwhile, with regular-season scoring champion Carroll signed by the NHL’s Calgary Flames, the hockey futures of Magee and Brown are less certain. Options include the CIS, pro hockey in Europe or minor-pro in North America through a grinding process via the ECHL and AHL.
“I’ll play it by ear and think about it when the time comes,” said Magee.
That time will come soon enough.