By  Stephanie Stevens

Hey boys,

I am sitting and sorting through a season’s worth of photos to send you, your parents and your coaches and writing this bit, this column, this… well, not quite a goodbye, but definitely à la prochaine (see you next time).

It has taken me longer to start writing than I care to admit, ding-dang it.

Back in the day, when I did this for the first time as a sports reporter for The Echo in early 2000s, I would be in the darkroom developing 3200 T-Max film and making contact sheets, poring over each one with a loupe to see if anything turned out. 

Back then, the guys would come into my office and squint at those tiny images to find the ones they wanted me to print out for them (they were nearly all black and white) and come back a day or two later to pick up the enlargements. 

Now, a click and share and you have the entire game folder to choose from.

Oh my, how times have changed. 

When Scott Dubielewicz asked me to wade back into this gig of covering the Rockies, I thought no problem, I can do this again. And this time, I will keep it simple. No getting to know the players, no close-game tense moments with my stern face on the bench, no emotion, no heart. Keep it simple. Show up, get the shots, cover the game, go home. 

I should have known better. It took a few games, but it was inevitable.

And it was all so familiar. The same whiff of the locker room (a fragrance one never truly forgets), the same whoosh of cold air as you came charging back to the bench or skating past full force, the same awful lighting in the northeast corner of the Eddie … and the same change from kids to young men when you put on your skates and hit the ice. 

At first I had to remind myself who I was watching when I saw numbers.

Not Mix … 14 is Mulligan. Not Botterill … 8 is Fath, not Billinghurst … 16 is Sather.

Bull, Scheffer, Tanemura, Prince, Carder, Simoes … on and on. Same numbers, new lads, all with their own styles and personalities. 

And then one game, I realized I was back in it for real. 

One of you got hurt in a particularly nasty check, and dang if I didn’t want to follow trainer Hannah Ewing onto the ice. After all, those are my boys out there. 

You may not have really known me, but I knew you.

Twenty years later I am still friends with some of those first Rockies. Talked to them quite a bit this season, reminiscing, asking for their thoughts, asking for advice when I realized I didn’t know the game as well as I used to.

I did get to know some of you off ice, and it was really nice to have that connection. And some I got to know on the bench. 

Teo Fath apologizing to me for the cuss words I was hearing, grinning a rueful grin.

Jaiden Jakubowski had me snorting trying keep laughter in a few times with his trash talk to the other teams. 

My favourite line still makes me snortle. 

I don’t recall the team, don’t recall the number (let’s use 22), but he was laid out flat on his back right in front of our bench, and as clear as words carry on a crisp winter night, Jaku said “22, what are you even doing with your life?”

I had to walk away for a moment.

(And for the record, 22 smiled when he skated away.)

There were moments I felt frustration when I didn’t get shots of all of you on the ice (though I must have 234 Gromnisky draw shots). And in part I wanted those shots because your coach Tayler Sincennes was right: you don’t know what this season meant to you yet. But you will. And you will never forget it. Or them. Trust me. Twenty years later, it still brings me to gruff tears to think of those last games. 

I saw you all. I saw how you skated, how you shot, I got to know what would frustrate you, what would elate you, and I saw what this game means to you.

I was there with you that final game, I felt it, the emotion, especially in the 20 year olds doing their last skate as a Rockie. I know what it meant. I felt it all again.

And I was so proud of you. 

Thanks for letting me hang out with you this season, guys. 

You did good.