Confetti rained down on the Windsor Spitfires.
The Barrie Colts left the ice slowly, peeking at the celebratory mayhem across the ice, and hoping it was all a bad dream.
This was no dream. This was cold, hard reality.
The Spitfires were the champions.
The Colts were not.
For Barrie, a 57-win, 116-point season couldn't outweigh what happened on a muggy Tuesday night in hard-nosed Windsor.
The Colts lost when it mattered most. And they went down four straight.
Windsor coach Bob Boughner, who chose to avoid shaking an extended hand from Barrie bench boss Marty Williamson after the title-clinching win, will be smiling today.
The Spitfires get plane tickets to Brandon, Man., where they'll challenge for a second straight Memorial Cup starting next week.
Spitfires GM Warren Rychel, who saw it fit to complain about the refereeing to one of the OHL's officiating managers, LaSalle native Mark Hicks, during the first period of the deciding game, will be thrilled, too.
What do the Colts get? They get the feeling that comes with losing something they were capable of winning.
"We came in as the No. 1 team in Canada," said 19-year-old goalie Peter Di Salvo. "It's tough. We fought as hard as we could."
But it wasn't enough.
Was it failure? Call it what you will, but if reaching the OHL final and losing to the Canadian Hockey League's defending titleholders is failure, then we know of at least 18 other teams in the 20-team league that would love a shot at failure.
Still, the loss won't sit well for a Colts organization that was bent on reaching the Memorial Cup for the first time in a decade, but ended up bent and broken instead.
"Bitterly disappointing," Williamson said in a pin-drop-quiet hallway that was in stark contrast to the scene unfolding on the ice in the game's aftermath. "Whatever all the cliches are, we just didn't get it done. That's the bottom line."
The Colts players -many of whom are of the high-talent variety, and many of whom were brought in via Bronx Bombersstyle upgrade trades this season -realize that more than anyone.
Most of the Colts hung their heads as they lugged their gear to the bus waiting in a dark parking lot. The majority of players either avoided eye contact with the Barrie media that was on hand, or refused to comment entirely. That's to be expected. Following a season full of so much expectation, attention and hype, there was probably nothing more they felt they could say.
"Tough time to lose," said for-w
a rd Bryan Cameron, who played his final OHL season alongside fellow overage forwards Luke Pither and Horseshoe Valley native Matt Kennedy.
"But it's not every day your team goes to the OHL final. It's not an easy thing to do."
No, it's not. And getting back there anytime soon might be an overly lofty expectation, considering that so much of the team's future was mortgaged for the present -- a present that must now be looked at as unfulfilled history.
"I wouldn't do anything differently," Williamson said. "I'm not going to get into hindsight."
Here's my look back: the Colts had a tremendous season. They pulled out all the stops in an attempt to build a winner, they reached the final, they lost. And that's hockey.
A beautiful Colts season transformed into a bouquet of pulled weeds here in the Rose City. But watching it blossom along the way was the real pleasure.