For a time this season, Taylor Derynck and the OCN Blizzard didn't know what the future held at the end of this season.
At midseason, the club was at risk of folding after the 2016-17 campaign, but a concerted community effort kept the franchise alive for at least another season.
Derynck, a Whistler native who will turn 20 in May, appreciated the opportunity to skate in front of the fans at the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre en route to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League championship series against the Portage Terriers.
"The fan base here was unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. The fans were so loud and so supportive for us. That's really made a huge difference with how we're playing," he said. "Portage was pretty cool... It was intimidating at times, but we had to use that energy for us."
OCN's storybook season came to an end, however, as the Blizzard fell in six games. Particularly heartbreaking was that OCN took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven finals after winning at home by dominant scores of 8-3 and 6-0. The Blizzard scored only six times in the next four games as the Terriers reeled off consecutive wins to take their third league title in a row.
"When we went to Portage, it was completely different. It was like we were playing a completely different team," he said. "We just couldn't buy a goal. Their goalie, (Kurtis) Chapman played unreal for the next four games."
Derynck also noted he couldn't seem to buy an assist either, claiming two clear points were taken from him in visiting rinks. He finished the postseason with a goal and two helpers.
The championship series win was the Terriers' seventh trophy in 10 seasons; the Blizzard, meanwhile, hadn't even been to the final since 2006.
"They had a bit more experience than us, but I thought we were the better team going into the series and we should have beat them, I thought," Derynck said. "We outplayed them the last three games, but we just couldn't buy a goal."
Derynck credited his teammates with playing to their respective capacities and giving the Blizzard a chance to win every night.
"Everyone was just buying in. Everyone was doing their jobs and we were working well as a team. No one was complaining and everyone was being a good teammate and staying positive," he said. "The players that needed to step up really stepped up and got us going at the very beginning."
Derynck noted there was some scrimping and saving after the team's future was no longer in doubt as the management tightened its budget to prepare for next season. He said the quality of things like sticks went down as part of the cuts. Throughout the process, however, team members sought to keep their minds focused on the ice, not what was happening off of it.
"We're all pretty excited, pretty happy and relieved," he said of the chance to save the team. "It was probably a little bit stressful for some people.
"I don't think it necessarily affected our play very much, but it was definitely a huge relief."
With one season of junior eligibility left, Derynck hopes to play his final season closer to home, especially with The Pas (OCN's home town) being a remote destination to which to travel.
"It's my last year and my parents could get to see me a little more," he said. "They came, probably, twice this year."