Hard-nosed Kelowna Rockets forward Mitchell Callahan was still thinking of what might have been as he sat Wednesday at the Kelowna airport waiting to fly back to his home in California.
It had been a couple of days since the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs after pushing the top rated Portland Winterhawks to six games in an entertaining series.
The pain of the loss and the fact that he was leaving a tight-knit team behind was still fresh for the 19-year-old Detroit Red Wings draft pick.
“It was probably the worst loss I have faced in my life,” said Callahan of the series which could have went either way. “It was hard, we were a pretty tight team. I thought we had a chance to make a run.”
For Callahan it was likely his last game in a Rockets’ uniform. He is eligible to play next season as a 20-year-old, but not many people believe he will be back in Kelowna. As he stood on the ice at centre with his teammates, raising a salute to the fans at Prospera, the fact he may have played his final game was starting to hit.
“I was just thinking it would probably be my last game,” he said. “It was tough but I think everyone was feeling for (20-year-olds) Geordie Wudrick, Zak Stebner and Evan Bloodoff. Everyone was so close on this team and we bonded together so well. It sucks losing but that’s hockey.”
And it’s another fact in junior hockey that players come in and move out. And as much as Kelowna fans would love to see Callahan play one more year in a Rockets uniform, you only have to look at the Whittier, California natives history to see that it’s not likely.
As a 17-year-old, Callahan walked into the Rockets training camp as an undrafted player and used his scrappy play to make the team as a tough guy in his first year. That made Callahan a popular player amongst Kelowna fans. Over the next two years he was suddenly a point producer and a player that wasn’t scared of anyone.
“When I came here Bruce Hamilton welcomed me with open arms,” said Callahan. “I can’t thank him and Lorne Frey enough for me giving me the chance to play. It’s been the best experience of my life.”
This year Callahan came from off the Team USA charts to be invited to and then make the USA World Junior team in another example of his determination to succeed. So what to expect next year from a guy whose work ethic keeps taking him to higher levels?
“My goal is to play pro but if not I would be happy to come back to Kelowna,” said Callahan. “I have a lot of maturing to do on and off the ice this summer. I’m keeping my fingers crossed to move to the next level. Hopefully one day I can work my way up to play in Joe Louis Arena.”
And with Callahan’s track record, that doesn’t seem so hard to imagine.