EDMONTON — The final buzzer at Rexall Place ended the Moose Jaw Warriors season.
It also ended an era.
The Warriors will likely be a vastly different team next season. They will lose forwards Cam Braes, James Henry and Kenton Miller to graduation. Four-year veterans Dylan McIlrath and Quinton Howden have both signed National Hockey League contracts and are unlikely to be back for their 20-year-old season. The same is true for Cody Beach who is also signed by the NHL's St. Louis Blues.
"It hasn't really sunk in to be honest," said McIlrath. "Sitting on the bench after the game it all came rushing through my head: looking back to when I was 16 when the organization gave me a chance. I've grown up to be a man here. The whole organization and what they've meant to me — it's hard to process."
Howden and McIlrath both went from being part of a highly-touted 1992-born WHL draft class to first round NHL draft picks.
They came of age in Moose Jaw and said the city will always have a special place in their hearts.
"This was the time when I really grew up," said Howden. "Any time someone moves away from home at 15 or 16 they start to mature. You grow up fast.
"It's been fun. This organization has been great to me. I'll always have these memories to look back on."
Howden played in 244 career WHL regular season games and scored 111 goals and had 239 points. He added 24 points in 22 playoff games. He also played at two World Junior championships.
While Howden was highly touted as a first overall bantam pick, McIlrath came to the league learning a new role on defence and he flourished with the Warriors.
"I couldn't have even dreamt this. It's surreal," said McIlrath of his progress over his WHL career. He went from being a third-round WHL draft pick to the 10th overall pick in the NHL draft in three years.
"I spent my rookie season developing and then my draft year was a blast. Then learning how to be a pro with great coaches and great management."
He played in 232 games and scored 16 goals and added 74 points while compiling 551 penalty minutes. He added seven assists in 24 career playoff games.
Both players will likely be called up to their NHL team's American Hockey League franchises as they take part in the Calder Cup playoffs.
There's a slim chance that Beach, Howden or McIlrath could be back — especially if a possible NHL work stoppage comes to pass — for an overage season.
If this is goodbye they left Moose Jaw with nothing but great memories.
"Looking back on my four years here I couldn't imagine my junior career any other way," said McIlrath. "It was the best time of my life."