As the Penticton Vees packed their bags and cleaned their locker room stalls on Wednesday, Garrett Milan summed it up best.
“It sucks, I’m not going to lie,” he said . “This might be the last time I’m in this locker room. It’s just disappointing it didn’t go further.”
On Monday, the Vees fell 4-2 to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks during the second round of the BCHL playoffs, losing the series in five games. Milan, captain Derik Johnson and Joey Holka are the longest tenured graduating players on the Vees.
“For me it was kind of a wild junior career,” said Johnson, who has replaced his playoff beard with a mustache. “It didn’t start out here but I’m glad this is the place that I have been able to finish it.”
Johnson grew as a person and player and became a part of a community. Growing up in Minnesota, a hockey-crazed state, Johnson loved his time playing in the Peach City.
“I have been extremely satisfied with my time here,” said Johnson, wearing a maroon Bulldogs baseball cap as he will play for the Division 1 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. “It won’t be a place that I will soon forget.”
Johnson has been sharing laughs with his soon-to-be former teammates and said packing your bags is never easy to do, but with the great group they have, it’s easier.
“It’s fun to see all the guys,” said Johnson, who will meet his father Jim to catch NCAA Frozen Four action.
Milan, called Millsy by teammates and Waterbug by some fans, attended the same rookie camp as Johnson and Holka. The Whistler minor hockey product described his career as “amazing.” Milan wanted to play for the Vees so bad, he played an extra season of major midget even though he had opportunities as a 16-year-old to play for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Burnaby Express and Victoria. He was targeting teams such as the Vees and Vernon Vipers.
“This was my first option from the get go,” said Milan.
The community sold him on playing here, the passion people have and the fact media covers the Vees like a professional team. In 174 career games, he scored 67 goals and 154 points, missing just six games.
Milan, who turns 20 on April 5, became a fan favourite as he buzzed the ice, was relentless on the puck and didn’t shy away from hits. That style won him the Fan Favourite award every season he has been a Vee.
“It’s kind of cool,” said Milan, who will resume his career with St. Cloud State along with Holka next fall. “It’s not the MVP, it’s not that kind of thing. It’s definitely appreciation from the community. You always want to play hockey to the best of your ability. If fans love that, then that’s great.”
Holka described his three seasons as a “roller coaster” to start. He came as an 18-year-old from Phoenix and played on the same midget team as Johnson. Like Johnson, Holka feels he has grown. He accomplished one of his goals in securing a scholarship. The other, winning a championship, eluded him. He relished earning a leadership role and playing in every situation. Holka joined the Vees after Harbinson offered him a card following rookie camp. In playing for Penticton, something else happened to Holka.
“I fell in love with the town right away,” he said, adding that living in Canada is a lot different. “Just the overall atmosphere. Everyone is so into hockey up here. On Sportscentre, hockey is always the one that leads it off. Instead of baseball or basketball like it is in the States. The culture of hockey up here is definitely something that I
Other graduating Vees include Paul Bezzo, Tyler Hlookoff, Mark Hall and Kyle Mountain.