The Chilliwack Bruins were packed up every last jersey, stick and puck. The 5-year-old WHL franchise was sold and was relocating to Victoria, British Columbia.
The players were part of that package, too, but defenseman Mitch Topping never made it to the ferry.
Just a couple of weeks before players were to report for the Victoria Royals first camp in the fall of 2011, Topping was acquired by the Tri-City Americans for a 2013 second-round bantam draft pick and prospect Justin Spagrud.
For Topping, it seems like yesterday that the trade came down. But here it is three years later, and Topping is scheduled to play his 300th Western Hockey League game Saturday when the Americans host Spokane. He will play No. 299 tonight against Portland.
I tell all of the young guys, dont even blink, said Topping, a native of Red Deer, Alberta. I remember the older guys in Chilliwack telling me that. Youll wake up and youll be 20 years old and coming to the close of your career. Im coming down the last stretch here, hitting 300 games and its just been a blur. I realize Ive been in the league for five years and have been through so much so many highs, so many lows. It feels like yesterday I was getting drafted by Chilliwack (first round, 2008) and heading to my first WHL camp.
Of those soon to be 300 games, 139 were with the Chilliwack Bruins, who relocated to Victoria after the 2010-11 season.
Topping played 66 games his first season with the Americans as they won 50 games and the U.S. Division title, but lost to Portland in the Western Conference finals. He had four goals and 16 assists.
Ive been pretty blessed to be on good teams with good people, Topping said. Ive met so many awesome teammates and coaches along the way. We had 50 wins my first year in Tri with guys like (Brendan) Shinnimin, (Adam) Hughesman, (Mason) Wilgosh, (Justin) Feser and (Patrick) Holland. The whole team was so cool to be a part of. A team that was strong. Staying here in the Tri-Cities deep in the playoffs until late April. Thats probably the highlight of my career.
Last season, he nearly doubled his point production with 13 goals and 26 points, and led the Tri-City defensemen in goals scored.
If he had remained healthy this season, Topping would have hit the 300 mark in Prince George back in December.
But as bad luck would have it, he broke his arm and wrist in a game with the Kelowna Rockets on Nov. 22 and missed 21 games.
It was something I was so close to getting to before I got hurt, Topping said of the milestone. Just the fact it is coming up this weekend at home, and against Spokane, is pretty special.
For Topping, his relationship with the Americans started long before the trade.
He had his first WHL fight Jan. 10, 2010, against Tri-Citys Adam Hughesman at Toyota Center. The Americans beat the Bruins 4-2 in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, and Toppings childhood friend Justin Feser played for Tri-City.
Its kind of ironic ending up here just from little moments you dont see being important at the time, Topping said. Hughey and I joked about (the fight) when I got traded here, and following Justin so closely, being buddies with him, and ending up here, it was a big change in my life, but one for the better. I havent looked back. It has been absolutely awesome. I just love it here.
Topping played his final WHL game in his hometown of Red Deer last week, scoring the game-winning goal for good measure.
It was pretty surreal. Still feeling good from that game, for sure, he said. Its bittersweet, obviously, it was my last game in my hometown. If you are going to go out like that the boys played really well and we got the win. The game winner made it that much more special to me.
While Topping has made his mark in the league, hes also left a big imprint of himself on the Tri-Cities.
Along with his teammates, he has helped build Habitat for Humanity homes, worked with youth hockey teams, participated in school reading programs, helped at the local food bank and rang the bell for Salvation Army during the holidays.
Last year, Topping and Feser created Making Awareness a Top Priority to Fes Out Muscular Dystrophy. Their efforts raised $14,656 for MDA. Their original goal was $2,500.
Topping was nominated for WHL Humanitarian of the Year, but finished second to Cody Sylvester of the Calgary Hitmen.
It comes down to giving back, Topping said. Im very blessed to live the lifestyle I do. I love interacting with the MDA kids and their families. Sometimes little things makes such a big difference for families.
Note: Topping and Fesers charity will have a stick drawing at tonights game. The stick is signed by Topping with the inscription Thanks for your support. There is a $1 suggested donation to the charity per ticket. The charity has raised $1,828 so far this season, but that does not include the players donation or the matching donation from the team.