BROOKS, Alta. -- After nine months of hockey, the Prince George Spruce Kings' season is finally over.
And what a year it was. They finished one point out of first overall in the B.C. Hockey League, then ran roughshod through the playoffs on the way to their first-ever Fred Page Cup championship.
After a 16-1 run to the title they advanced to the Doyle Cup series and took out the top-ranked team in Canada in a six-game series to claim the Pacific region title.
Their dream season ended Sunday one win shy of a third trophy and the Bandits beat them to it, winning the National Junior A Hockey Championship in Brooks, Alta., with a 4-3 victory in the final over the Spruce Kings.
"It's been a surreal experience, something that no one involved here will forget," said Kings defenceman Dylan Anhorn, who scored the Kings' third goal with 45 seconds left Sunday, after nailing the crossbar minutes earlier.
"This is a team that was pretty special from top to bottom. From the beginning we had a goal here and we came one game away from that. It's pretty frustrating that you come that close to winning a national championship but there's nothing we can change about it now.
"We can reflect on the season we had and the impact we were able to have on the Prince George community."
After two successful seasons in the BCHL with the Spruce Kings, Anhorn will play next season at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.,
"Obviously we wanted a different result but at the end of the day this group won two championships this season and we went on a pretty long run last year," Anhorn said.
"The bonds are pretty tight with this group and it's not going to be easy moving on."
Despite their three-goal deficit after 20 minutes Sunday, captain Ben Poisson and his teammates never lost hope.
"We thought we still had a chance at that point, three goals, we can do that in two periods and there were lots of chances we had to put it in," said Poisson.
"We could have easily put in a few more with our chances, so we played well and gave it our all.
"When we won the league there, and that was big for us. Going 16-1 through the playoffs was awesome and I'm proud of everyone in there. Last year we came up just short and this year we wanted to make a difference."
For Poisson, bound for the University of Maine on scholarship next season, the 2018-19 season was unique. It gave him the chance to play for the first time with his younger brother Nick, a BCHL rookie who scored a goal in all six national tournament games which only raised his stock as a college prospect.
"When he put up six goals in six games that's quite something," said Ben.
"I don't know if I'll ever get the chance again to play a year with him, so this year we made it the best we could."
Layton Ahac was part of a beleaguered line of defence that had such a difficult time containing the Bandits in the first period Sunday. As good as the Kings were coming back on teams during the season, against an older Brooks team, the hole they dug for themselves was one goal too deep.
"They're a great team and they came out really hot and got three goals in the first period and that hurt, but we're a resilient group," said Ahac.
"We stuck with it and came back and played with a lot of heart but our start's what killed us."
Ahac, an Ohio State recruit, is preparing for the NHL draft in late June in his hometown of Vancouver.
He's the 66th-ranked North American skater on NHL Central Scouting's final pre-draft list, expected to be picked in the second or third round.
"I'm not too focused on it, to be honest, but now I can put the hockey behind me and just focus on the process," he said.
The Kings boarded the bus back to Prince George early Monday morning looking much different, much younger, having shaved off their playoff beards. That blade took years off the face of defenceman Max Coyle, who along with Dustin Manz grew the wooliest look the past two months among the Kings - a band of brothers like no other Coyle has ever been part of in his hockey career.
"I think we're more disappointed that we're all leaving each other than we are that we actually lost the hockey game," said Coyle. "We had something special and that's going to be tough to bite the bullet and move on.
"If there was a fourth period I'm sure it would have been a different end result but there isn't and you have to give credit where credit's due. (The Bandits) are a good hockey team and a good program and they made a pretty good team this year."
Patrick Cozzi, who arrived in Prince George two summers ago already armed with a hockey scholarship to Colorado College, was there for the two most successful seasons in the team's 23-year BCHL existence.
"We accomplished so much this year, we made Spruce Kings' history" said Cozzi, whose power-play goal 2:22 into Sunday's final kickstarted the Kings' comeback try.
"Even though we didn't get the result we wanted we definitely had an amazing year,"
Cozzi and the rest of the Kings knew the Bandits almost blew a three-goal lead in their semifinal with the Ottawa Junior Senators and used that as added motivation to try to wipe the slate clean and play up to their capabilities the rest of the game.
The speedy Cozzi developed into one of the top two-way forwards in the BCHL and credits the coaching staff for bringing the defensive element out in his game.
"I'm leaving here as a much better player, Mags (head coach Adam Maglio) has taught me so much, just all the little details, so I think I'm going to college really prepared because of it," he said.
Coyle is off to the University of Alabama-Huntsville next season and says the returning Kings in 2019-20 will give the fans plenty to look forward to as they try to build another winner.
"We've got some young guys like Craig MacDonald, Sean Donaldson and Fin Williams who are going to lead the herd next year and it will be nice to watch them, they're they impressive," said Coyle.
Anhorn also sees a bright future ahead for the team, for years to come. The Kings could return as many as 11 players next season.
"Coach Maglio is never going to have a team that won't compete for a league title so I think there's going to be another great season next year and I think Prince George fans won't be let down," he said.
The Kings were certainly not alone in Brooks. Aside from the group of parents who followed them throughout the nine-day tournament, a group of about 100 Kings fans made the trip to Brooks, where the Kings went 4-2.
Their only losses were at the hands of the Bandits, who beat Prince George 3-1 in the final round-robin game.
The Kings will gather for one final send-off Tuesday at 4 p.m. at a city reception at the Civic Centre.
"It's going to be pretty emotional, the last time seeing all the fans, but I'll remember this experience the rest of my life, it's been amazing," said Cozzi.