With six players graduating from this year's Home Hardware Midget AAA Legionnaires roster, Friday night's team awards night was a special evening, especially for three of the team's seniors.
A trio of Legionnaires on this year's roster - Mason Strutt, Kersey Reich, and Lucas Ochitwa - played three full seasons at the Midget AAA level in Swift Current.
They all rank in the top ten all-time for regular-season games played in a Legionnaires jersey.
The trio is also the only three on this year's roster who were on hand for the final season of a lengthy playoff drought, before these past two strong campaigns.
Year 1 for Ochitwa, Reich, and Strutt was an eleventh-place finish in the 12-team league, working a 14-30-0-0 record.
Year 2 was a near reversal of their record, as a 26-13-1-4 effort spelled a fifth-place finish. Swift Current clinched a playoff spot for the first time since the 2011-12 season. They were able to knock off the fourth-seeded Tisdale Trojans in Round 1 of playoffs, before a sweep at the hands of the Notre Dame Hounds in the league semis.
Cut to Year 3, which saw another leap in their regular-season record, finishing with a mark of 28-14-1-1, though again in fifth place in the standings. Swift Current again fell via series sweep to the Hounds in the playoffs, though this time in Round 1, in a series that had as narrow of a margin for error as any team in recent memory.
As the 2019-20 season is nearly underway with spring camp right around the corner, we take one last look back at the careers of the three long-tenured Legionnaires.
The product of Wadena served as the Legionnaires captain in his third-and-final season in the SMAAAHL.
He came to Swift Current after a Bantam AA career with the Humboldt Broncos - ever since setting foot in the southwest, Ochitwa says there hasn't been a negative in sight.
"I have zero complaints with the past three years with this organization, it's been nothing but good to me," he explained. "I came in as a first-year, and we had a little bit of a rough season, didn't make playoffs, and we built from there."
Ochitwa's offensive game also steadily improved on the Legionnaires blue line over his tenure in Swift Current. He posted eight points as a rookie, bumped that up to ten in his second year, while piling up 22 this past season.
The defender said the area of his game that grew the most over his Midget AAA career was the ability to find efficiencies.
"Definitely as you get older in the league, when you get a little bit more experience under your belt, you figure out little tricks to make the game easier for yourself, where you may not need to necessarily work as hard at certain moments," he said. "In the end, you conserve energy, and you can play better with the energy you have."
Getting to be a part of seeing the franchise take a 180-degree pivot back to the playoff picture was as rewarding of an experience as he had in Midget.
"It's a fantastic feeling, it really is," Ochitwa said. "It makes you feel like you did something, like you were a part of something special. When you have a drought for that long, you can turn around and make the Mac's second and third year here, and can make playoffs your second and third year here, it feels special."
Ochitwa is headed to play in the SJHL with the Melfort Mustangs next season, and says he hopes to take his game south of the border.
"Hopefully end up playing somewhere down in the states. Go play some hockey while I do some schooling, and live life out."
Ochitwa finishes with 122 regular-season games played, good for ninth on the Legionnaires all-time list.
Reich was a regular-occurrence on the stat sheet over his tenure in Swift Current.
The defenceman posted 13 points in his rookie season, 22 as a sophomore, and 32 as a third-year.
Reich's 67 total points are the most by a defenceman in Legionnaires' history, while his 55 assists rank fourth among all skaters in the team's all-time ranks.
The product of Estevan ventured from the southeast to the southwest after a second-year bantam stint with the Notre Dame Bantam AAA Hounds.
"The city's been so good to me in so many ways," Reich explained. "I think I've grown as a person, as a hockey player, and it just means a lot. We had a great group of guys this year to finish this off. It was really nice to end off my last season with this group of guys."
Reich, who boasts one of the league's hardest shots, modestly noted that his game "definitely have gotten a little better" since his rookie season.
"A major part of that is from the coaches, the coaching staff is really great - Darren (Evjen), (Andy) Blanke, Guy (Jacobson) - they've all been so good to me," he said. "They've given me opportunities and coached me through a lot, so I'd like to thank them."
Reich, as both Ochitwa and Strutt agreed, noted that, despite a series sweep to close their Midget careers, the final campaign was a one to be proud of.
"Definitely a disappointing finish, but I don't think we left anything out on the table out there, I think we played really good," explained Reich. "That series could have went either way. Overall, I think the year was really good. I saw lots of improvement, especially in our young guys. It's good to see the future of the Legionnaires looks promising."
As Ochitwa explained as well, going from 11th to a pair of fifth-place finishes was one to remember.
"It's really big, it's been nice," Reich said. "Guys like Mason Strutt and Lucas Ochitwa, they've helped a lot and this organization looks really good in the future - it's grown so much in the past few years."
Reich ends his Legionnaires career in fifth on the team's all-time list for regular season games played, with an impressive 129 appearances.
He says he plans on playing with the hometown Estevan Bruins in the SJHL next season.
Fellow Estevan-born Legionnaire Mason Strutt showed slick skills in the offensive zone over his three-year run in the southwest.
After racking up 97 points over two seasons with the Estevan Bantam AA Bruins, Strutt signed with the Legionnaires, continuing the offensive output.
Posting ten points in his rookie season, the shifty forward nearly quadrupled his output in Year 2 with 37. Strutt then tied for the team lead in his final season with 55 points.
His 102 rank third in the Legionnaires all-time ranks, while he's tied for second all-time in goals with 48.
"The past two seasons especially have been pretty successful," said Strutt, shifting to the team accomplishments first. "This season was really great. There's not enough I can say about how much fun I had, and the guys I played with this year and got to be friends with."
Strutt said his growth came in being able to maintain the day-to-day routine.
"You learn to play consistently and hard in every situation," said Strutt. "And, how hard it is to prepare every day, do this day in and day out to become successful and a good hockey player."
The common theme for the trio on playing in the team's last playoff-free season, ending with back-to-back berths, was certainly echoed by Strutt.
"It means a lot, you've got to put in a lot of hard work every day to consistently have success," he said. "It's great to be a part of the foundation of the last two seasons that have been really successful. Being part of that graveyard, it makes you thankful for a good team, a great coach, and a great group of guys to play with."
Moving forward, Strutt says his hockey future is up in the air, at least in terms of destination.
"There's a few options that I'd like to explore, but it's not set in stone what I'm doing yet. It's just about working hard, just trying to become a better hockey player in the off-season, and see where it takes me."
Strutt finishes his Midget AAA career having played the eighth-most regular season games (125) in Legionnaires' history.