Kiefer McNaughton remembers sitting in the locker room after each of his previous four seasons ended, watching graduating veterans bawling their eyes out and not quite knowing why.
Last year, he watched departing captain David Thompson, normally the stoic sort, break down in tears.
He kind of understood.
Last junior A game and all that, but Thompson was going on to NCAA hockey with the Penn State Nittany Lions.
So why the fuss?
Saturday night, the North Vancouver native finally got it.
“You don’t really understand it until you go through it,” the big blueliner said. “When you’re younger, you’re just mad because the season’s over. But after Saturday’s game it was like, ‘Wow. It’s really over.’”
McNaughton and four teammates gave their BCHL swan-song as the Chiefs hosted the Coquitlam Express, losing 10-5 at Prospera Centre.
Tanner Cochrane, Cody Bardock, Andrew Silard and Mathieu Tibbet were the others.
“About a month ago I really started thinking about it coming to an end,” McNaughton said. “Then I had my final Monday practice and everything was on countdown. We were all sitting in the room, looking at each other, knowing it was inevitable.”
Fans at the game may have noticed the veteran of 153 BCHL games (with Chilliwack, Quesnel and Nanaimo) sitting behind the visitor’s net after the first period ended.
Players usually stay in the room during intermission.
“I was trying to soak up every last bit of it that I could,” he explained. “The crowd was big and the atmosphere was great and a part of me still couldn’t believe it was coming to an end.”
McNaughton was one of the last players off the ice when the game ended, lingering a while and raising his stick to salute the fans as he left.
Then, to the locker room.
“All of us 20’s had tears in our eyes, and there was lots of hugging,” he said. “Harvey (coach Smyl) came into the room to talk to the team, then we went on the ice for the team photo.”
He was back Monday morning to pack up his gear and say goodbye to the office staff before driving away with the arena receding in his rear-view mirror.
“I came in at 15 years old thinking I knew everything in the world, believing I was untouchable,” he said. “I was going to make it to the National Hockey League and that was all I thought about. I’ve grown as a person since then, and now I realize hockey’s just a small aspect of life. It’s on to the real world.”