The conversation was short the day the Helena Big Horns junior hockey club handed current Bellingham Blazers center Mason Wade his walking papers.
Ambiguity had no place in the five-, maybe 10-minute conversation, and a hand-shake cemented the all-too-harsh reality that the Big Horns no longer wanted the 18-year-old's services.
"I've tried to play hockey my whole life, and to have someone tell you you are not good enough is a pretty (bad) feeling," Wade said of the conversation he and Big Horns coach Scott Cunningham had. "He just came out and told me, 'I'm not going to beat around the bush, we gave your rights away.' He said I wasn't going to make the lineup, so I shook his hand and left."
As Wade stepped closer to the door - and even closer to putting Helena behind him - he made a call to his long-time coach, Mark Collins.
"I felt pretty lost after that," he said. "I didn't know where I was going to go."
Collins, who was in the midst of resurrecting the Bellingham Blazers junior hockey team from its 37-year hiatus, contacted the team Wade was traded to and asked for his release.
"I know the type of kid he is, and the type of player he is, and I thought he would be a big piece of that puzzle right from the start," Collins said in a phone interview.
He couldn't have been more right.
Wade's play on the Blazers' (28-19-1 overall) most prolific line helped propel the underdogs to an upset of the league's top team, the West Sound Warriors, in a five-game Northern Pacific Hockey League championship series. As league champions, Bellingham received an automatic bid into the 2013 USA Hockey Tier III Junior Nationals in Rochester, Minn., where they will face the Twin Cities Northern Lights in the first of three pool games Thursday, April 4. The top two teams from each pool advance to the semifinals on Sunday, April 7, before the championship game will be held Monday, April 8.
Defeating West Sound had a redeeming quality about it for Wade, a 6-foot-1 center.
It was the validation of the player he believed himself to be - a catalyst to a championship-caliber club - not the one the Big Horns thought so easily expendable, he said.
The best part?
If Bellingham makes it through group play, it could face Helena, which won the America West Hockey League championship to advance to Junior Nationals, in the semifinals.
"I hope we make it that far to prove to them that they might have missed out," Wade said. "It was your loss losing me, and it would feel good to play against them."
Wade's skill set, which was underutilized during his time in Helena, flourished this year under the tutelage of Collins, leading to 27 goals.
Evidenced by his team-leading 51 assists Wade's strongest skill is his ability to command the ice, Collins said
"He has an uncanny ability to make the right pass at the right time," Collins said. "That is a huge key, because he has his left winger, Derek Davis, or his right winger, Cody Rich, flying down the ice, and it's easy to hold onto the puck too long and miss the opportunity. And where he has gotten better is knowing when and where to make that pass and putting it right on the spot."
Facilitator is merely a role Wade said he is comfortable playing with talented scorers like Rich, who netted a team-high 52 goals this season, and Davis, who scored 24, on the same line.
"Cody is a natural goal scorer, so it works out that me and him play well together," Wade said. "I can make the play, and he can finish it off for the goal, and that is where we have had our success.
"Coaches want to see the guy who is making plays for the better of the team, not flashy plays to get noticed. It's a maturing thing, where you don't care so much about being in the spotlight."
Wade seems to know nothing of personal glory, and when asked about his mentality when given the chance to score, the soft-spoken center joked, "I hope I can bury (it)."
Make no mistake, Wade's high-tide-raises-all-ships skill set can be deceptive. When needed, he can score with the best of them, just as he did in the clinching game against the Eugene Generals in the semifinal round of the NORPAC playoffs.
"It was the final game, and something just clicked inside and It was like, 'Okay, we have to win this,' and I scored a few goals, and I just turned it on, I guess," he said.
And if Bellingham seeks to bring home a national tournament championship, it will need Wade to be every bit the player Helena believed he wasn't, and he believed he was.
Reach Alex Bigelow at email@example.com or 360-715-2271.
2013 USA HOCKEY TIER III JUNIOR NATIONALS
Dates: April 4-8
Site: Rochester, Minn.
BLAZERS POOL PLAY SCHEDULE
Thursday, April 4: vs. Twin Cities Northern Lights, 2 p.m.
Friday, April 5: vs. Northern Iowa Bulls, 8 a.m.
Saturday, April 6: vs. New Hampshire Monarchs, 2 p.m.
Semifinals: 12:30 and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 7
Championship: 10 a.m. Monday, April 8