Every athlete dreams of going out on top, winning a championship title in their final season.
And for four Langley hockey players, that dream has become reality.
The quartet of captain Eric Callegari, assistant captain Quinncy Leroux, Kurt Klimek and Jeremy Lagler played integral roles in helping the Aldergrove Kodiaks capture the Pacific Junior Hockey League championship title.
Klimek and Leroux are both 21 while Callegari and Lagler will turn 21 later this year.
The Kodiaks, the top team in the regular season, defeated the Delta Ice Hawks in six games, earning the right to represent the PJHL at the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
The four-team competition runs April 6 to April 9 with the winner advancing to the Keystone Cup, the western Canadian championships. Aldergrove is up against the host Creston Valley Thundercats, the Campbell River Storm and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.
But the fact the Langley foursome — some of whom have played together since age 7 — wound up on the same team, nearly didn’t happen.
Of the four, only two had planned to play competitive hockey — Callegari was scheduled to play for the SFU Clan in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League while Lagler was returning to Saskatchewan to play junior A with the Weyburn Red Wings.
Leroux had knee problems while Klimek took all of last year off and had no plans to return.
“I wasn’t even thinking about playing hockey,” admitted Klimek.
In fact, prior to missing all of last year, Klimek had spent the previous two seasons as a goaltender for the Ridge Meadows Flames, a rival team in the PJHL.
But over a couple of beers, the childhood buddies hatched their plan.Klimek was going to come out of ‘retirement’ but instead of playing goal, was going to try his hand as a positional player. Callegari still attended SFU, but instead of playing with his brother, was going to return to the Kodiaks. Leroux’s knee felt fine enough to also play his final season.
Lagler did go to Saskatchewan, but the notion of returning to Aldergrove — he was part of the Kodiaks 2014 championship team alongside Leroux — was always in the back of his mind.
Playing with borrowed equipment, Klimek went out for a couple of skates — “I didn’t to half bad” was his self-assessment — and wound up landing a forward role on the team.
And just like that, the plan was in motion.
Callegari led the league in scoring with 73 points and finished tied for second with 26 goals.
Leroux missed 11 games but had he played a full season, he was on pace to finish tied for fourth. He still wound up in the top 10 with 25 goals and 47 points.
And even Klimek — who grew up stopping pucks rather than scoring goals — was nearly a point-per-game player with 33 points in 36 games.
Aldergrove ran away with the PJHL regular season title, going 36-7-0-0, nine points clear of the next closest team.
The Kodiaks beat Mission in five games, swept Ridge Meadows in four and then won the league title in six games over Delta.
Leroux was tied with teammate Cameron Davitt for the playoff scoring lead with 18 points while Callegari was one point back.
Lagler, who joined Aldergrove with three regular season games remaining, chipped in 13 assists in 14 games.
“They were a good team before I came back so I was lucky enough to join them for the playoff run and win a championship with my best friends,” he said.
“I’m just happy I ended up playing.
“To get to play with these guys one more year … and having everything come together, and winning the whole thing is amazing,” Klimek said.
“It is pretty special to remain this close with your childhood friends,” Callegari said.
The players all say they are aiming for bigger things: first the Cyclone Taylor Cup and then hopefully the Keystone Cup as western Canadian champions.
But no matter what happens, this will be one season they won’t forget.
“You grow up always wanting to win a championship (and) it is pretty cool to do it with your best friends,” Lagler said.
“No matter, what league you do it in, it is pretty special.”
“I know we will remember this for the rest of our lives,” Leroux said.