LONDON -- The Ottawa 67's spent yesterday packing their gear and loading it on the bus for the long trip back home.
It was a day to reflect on an incredible season and to remember a playoff run that ended Saturday with a 7-4 loss to the Rimouski Oceanic in the Memorial Cup semi-final.
"These are guys you've been with for three or four years of your life," said Ottawa winger Mark Mancari.
"They're your best friends and they become your brothers. You basically go to war every game. You give everything you have for each other."
Yet while yesterday was a day of sadness -- and one of permanent goodbyes for overagers Jeremy Akeson, Brad Staubitz and Brad Bonello, it was also a time to look ahead to a bright future.
Rookie winger Jamie McGinn became one of the more productive 67's players at the Memorial Cup tournament.
The crash-and-bang play of the so-called fourth line consisting of rookies Arron Alphonso, Pat Ouellette and veteran Robbie Lawrance provided an example to some of the older players who didn't perform with as much passion.
"In my four years in the league, I've never seen a better group of rookies come in," said Mancari.
Next year could provide another bumper crop.
WANT COUTURE HERE
The 67's, who hope to have top draft pick Logan Couture here, also have the first pick of the European draft and have their sights set on Czech Michael Frolik, a top prospect for the 2006 NHL draft.
In goal, the 67's will be strong even if Danny Battochio gets a pro contract and doesn't return, Anthony Guadagnolo could step in and play.
Derek Joslin and Elgin Reid return to the blue line, while overagers Will Colbert and Nick Van Herpt could be back.
"I see a lot of younger guys that got some great experience this week," said Colbert. "This is what a lot of junior hockey players play for, and we got to experience it."
An experience of a lifetime -- and an experience that should contribute to a bright future.