The Unseen Side of Junior Hockey

Life can be a series of storms meant to be weathered in hopes of building character and personality. Brick by brick, a mental shelter is sorted, plastered, and constructed to deal with all of life’s trials and tribulations. On Monday night in a barn dubbed “The Shoebox,” life dealt a storm of defeat to the NAHL Lone Star Brahmas at the hands of their first-round opponent, the Shreveport Mudbugs. In a series that saw a record-breaking four-overtime thriller and the opposing Mudbugs battle back from a 2-1 series deficit, nothing quite prepared me for what I witnessed on Monday night.

The NAHL is one of the top junior leagues in the United States that has produced names like Pat Maroon, Phil Kessel, Mike Modano, and Conner Hellebuyck just to name a few. It is where skaters from ages 16-20 continue to build their book of work on the ice in hopes to continue their playing career at the college or professional level. For some, it is also where they will play competitive hockey at any level for the very last time.

When you take into account that last sentence, you realize how much games like Mondays between the Brahmas and Mudbugs mean to each and every person on the ice. On one end, you have the Mudbugs, who earned their way into the second round of the Robertson Cup playoffs. On the other end, you have the Brahmas who fought with everything they had in their hearts and souls only to face the storm of defeat. That is where the emotion set in.

As I stood behind the zamboni doors on Monday night I witnessed the end of the NAHL season for the first time in person and witnessed the raw emotion of the end of a journey for all the young men dawning their Lone Star Brahmas uniforms. Some for the final time. A few skaters dropped to one knee on the ice as the buzzer rang through the rink. Some fell to both knees, and some just stood in disbelief, gloves crossed over the top of their stick in front of their face to shield the emotion emanating from their eyes. Then, after the traditional handshakes at the end of any playoff series in hockey, the thank you lap took place. Their eyes beat red from the tears wiped away looked over the crowd and the rink at their loyal supporters, billet families, season ticket holders, dedicated coaching staff, and front office. Sticks raised in the air tapped the glass in a sign of gratitude.

Having been fortunate enough to work in the NA3HL and NAHL, this was one of the more somber moments of my journey so far. Seeing these essential kids being dealt the reality of having to move on was one I still remember to this day myself and it brought to mind a quote from The Office. If you watch the show you know exactly what this felt like when you heard it for the first time.

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

Andy Bernard, The office

As time moves on, these Brahmas will weather the storm all in their own way. There will be more players, more fans, more families, and more stories. On Monday though, it was all about that moment and that team with their fans in one of the most beautifully tragic moments I have witnessed in my time being around the sport of hockey.

To follow the Brahmas and their journey through the offseason make sure to visit or follow them on social media at @brahmashockey via Instagram.

Author: Fink

Stood in an elevator with Jere Lehtinen once. Full-time freelancer in all things media. Beer League Black Ace and big-time locker room glue guy.

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