When you lose a best-of-seven playoff series 4-0, score just two goals and allow 28 and get out-shot 182-72 chances are there might be some criticism.
But instead of slamming the Grande Prairie Storm, hockey fans should be saluting the Spruce Grove Saints.
That was a pretty amazing display of hockey put on by the Alberta Junior Hockey League North Division champions with the final blow being an 8-0 win over the hometown Storm on Tuesday night in Revolution Place Arena in Game 4 of the series.
And while it was no doubt a little embarrassing for the team to finish up their season that way, Storm players can still be proud they put together one of the best regular-seasons in several years with a fourth place finish and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
There is promise for the future.
Storm fans saw some of that future in the lineup on Tuesday when, for the second night in a row, four affiliated players were in the lineup – Tristan Jones, John Sullivan, Bryce Osepchuk and Devan Klassen.
With AJHL Rookie of the Year Zach Okabe (22 goals and 57 points) back in the fold next year along with Connor Blake (27 goals and 57 points) and Jared Power (15 goals and 30 points in just 34 games) that's a pretty good base to build around. Rookie goaltender Ethan Slobodzian, who played all five quarterfinal games, will be back and has proven he can play Junior A hockey and all but two defencemen can return.
Justin Bernier, Edouard Michaud and Dallas Comeau, who finished one-two-three in team scoring this season, are all 21 this year and along with defencemen Kurtis Rutledge and Christopher Lanouette and goaltender Charles-Olivier Levesque are too old to return to junior hockey next season.
If the team needs a gauge to what they have to aspire to they got it in the Saints, who now await a winner between the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Whitecourt Wolverines to see who they will meet in the North Division final. Following a 2-0 win on Tuesday the Wolverines lead that series 3-1.
Spruce Grove has a very talented group from top to bottom and they were relentless while dominating in all but one of the games in the series – a 5-2 win in Game 2. It was the only game – one in the first and one in the second – where the Storm scored.
The entire series was a rather gentle affair with just 11 powerplays for each team over the four games. Spruce scored on five of those and the Storm zero on their man advantage chances.
The Storm never led at any point in the series, but if not for some iron around Spruce Grove netminder Nolan Kent that might have changed just 1:30 into Tuesday's game. Blake rang one off the post with his chance to put the Storm up for the first time.
That was the first good chance the Storm had to score. The second, and last good chance, came with 1:30 to go in the first when Walter Cote was set up nicely and was in alone on Ken, but missed the net.
At that point – after goals by Jordan Biro and league scoring champion and MVP Chris Van Os-Shaw – the Saints were up 2-0. Had Cote connected it might have given the Storm a lift going into the second down by just a goal.
Jarrod Gourley scored the only goal of the second and then Parker Saretsky and Austin Parmiter added two goals each and Jamieson Ree a single for the Saints in the third.
The Storm did not take a penalty in the game and had three powerplays.
Levesque ended up facing 47 shots while the Storm fired 18 at Kent.
Team awards will put the capper on the season for the Storm (no date has been announced yet) and then its onto 2018-19 with a spring camp, the fall camp and a new season and new hopes and dreams.