Courtesy Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun
Marcus Sekundiak will pull a Brandon Wheat Kings jersey over his head for the final time tonight.
And while some things went a little differently in his Western Hockey League career than he might have hoped, he’ll take many lessons into whatever comes next.
Sekundiak, who turned 21 last week, will play in his 213th regular season WHL game tonight as the Wheat Kings finish their 24-game schedule in the East Division hub in Regina against the Saskatoon Blades at 5 p.m.
For the Oak Bluff product, as much as he improved on the ice, the biggest lessons came off of it.
“I think it’s what it means to be a Wheat King,” Sekundiak said. “There is a lot of pride in that, not just as a hockey player. I think going through the last four years, they teach you how to be a good person, and honestly, I think that’s more important. You’re not going to play hockey forever, but if you can learn about how to treat others and how to hold yourself accountable for your actions, that’s going to help years down the road.”
The Oak Bluff product tore up the bantam AAA league in 2014-15, his WHL draft year, scoring 30 goals in 30 games and adding 23 assists. After matching that goal-a-game rate in high school hockey with Oak Park High — 22 goals and 19 assists in 22 games in 2015-16 — he had 17 markers and 10 helpers in 30 games with Rink Hockey Academy in 2016-17.
He earned a full-time spot with the Wheat Kings in the 2017-18 season at age 17, and has spent the last three seasons with the club.
“I got comfortable in a role,” the five-foot-11, 188-pound Sekundiak said. “As a young guy, I didn’t really know what type of player I was going to be in the league. I think it changed over the course of a couple of years. I was getting more confident on the ice, and knowing I had the ability to play out there was what changed the most for me.”
In 212 regular season WHL games, he has posted 18 goals, 19 assists and 105 penalty minutes. Four of those points came in 22 games this season.
He came into the truncated campaign wanting to put up bigger numbers.
“I was hoping to be a little more offensive but that didn’t pan out the way I wanted it to,” Sekundiak said. “I think I still developed in my role as a depth guy and penalty killer. I’m still satisfied with how things turned out. Having guys fill that position is important.”
He’s certainly doing it in a unique setting this season. The entire 24-game schedule was played at the Brandt Centre, with the players living at the University of Regina’s Paskwaw Tower residence.
It’s proven to be a good fit in a year when even having seemed unlikely at times.
“It’s definitely been interesting,” Sekundiak said. “Coming into the hub, we didn’t really know what to expect with food and hockey but we got through that first week of quarantine and back into the rink for practice. The first game was definitely interesting too. Obviously the atmosphere is a little different with no fans. It was kind of a bit of sloppy hockey, but once we got three or four games in, the pace really picked and that’s when it started to mean something and we knew we could win hockey games here.”
He is living with fellow overager Reid Perepeluk, plus Jonny Lambos and Jake Chiasson. They share a kitchen and living room, with bathrooms split between the two rooms on each side.
“It’s been really good,” Sekundiak said. “I think we all have good chemistry. We’re all a bit different personalities I guess you could say but we all mesh well together. We had things pretty planned out as far as things like food and eating together. Our game-day habits are all in synch.”
Sekundiak said his car was absolutely jammed full of stuff when he drove to Regina. He didn’t bring too much clothing, which worked out well when the team supplied players with branded apparel. He concentrated on something else, bringing in several large bins of food, which he adds with a chuckle, are no longer filled with food.
“I don’t think I could have brought anything more than I did,” Sekundiak said. “That’s how much I had.”
Not only did the players have a transition to an unprecedented situation in the hub, they also had to deal with a new coaching staff after Dave Lowry left to join the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets and former assistant Don MacGillivray took over behind the bench.
From Sekundiak’s perspective, there wasn’t a massive overhaul in how things were done.
“It was pretty similar,” Sekundiak said of the two seasons. “Not much changed this year, which was nice obviously. A lot has changed in the atmosphere here so not having too much change on the ice was nice.”
The sheer mental and physical toll of playing 24 games in less than two months was also an adjustment.
He said his mindset changed based on location. If he was at the rink, it was all business. If he was back at the residence, he tried to just soak up the experience and hang out with his teammates.
But there was no getting away from the physical impact.
“It was definitely a little tough on the body,” Sekundiak said. “(Athletic therapist) Will (Sadonick-Carriere) had us doing some recovery workouts and yoga sessions with Chelsea (McCrimmon). Mentally, just having the guys around you helped a lot. If you were on your own it would have been a little tougher, but having guys going through the same thing made it a little easier.”
As an older player, he’s felt compelled to help out the younger players whenever he can.
Sekundiak said some of the team’s previous captains — Tanner Kaspick, James Shearer and Connor Gutenberg quickly come to mind for him — were big helps to him when he was younger. He was intent on being a similar role model for this season’s eight rookies.
“I think it’s really important,” Sekundiak said. “I had guys along the way do it for me so to pass it on to them, I know how important it is from being in their shoes. I think as a young guy coming into the league, you look for people to look up to, to teach you the ropes basically.”
He also remembers what he faced in his first season. It’s not an easy league to play in as a newcomer.
“It’s really hard,” Sekundiak said. “The pace picks up a lot from midget. I think you start to adjust to it within a month or two. For me, that’s what it was. Obviously it would have been a little quicker for the guys here this year because you don’t have that break-in period.”
The opportunity he had to play in the league as an overager — “It’s really special” — also reminded him of something he heard a few years ago.
As a rookie, Sekundiak heard the team’s older players talk about how quickly a WHL career passes by. He gets it now in a way that he didn’t then.
“It definitely does,” Sekundiak said. “You don’t think too much of it when they tell you and then once you’re in their shoes, you understand it.”
Sekundiak will also be part of an even rarer subset: Brandon overagers who won a title. While it may not be the league championship the franchise earned in 1979, 1996 and 2016, he’s still happy with the East Division banner.
“There is a lot of pride there,” Sekundiak said. “It’s as far as we could go, and I think to win it, that’s really special for our team. We knew we had the ability pretty early on in the season, and to do it is really special.”
It’s the best possible ending this season for Sekundiak, who was drafted by the Wheat Kings in the seventh round in 2015, and has spent his entire career in the organization.
He’s thankful for that.
“It’s really special,” Sekundiak said. “Up until the (Winnipeg) Ice came to Manitoba, Brandon has always been Manitoba’s team. To be able to play there, it’s always going to be a part of me and a second home for me. It’s definitely a place I’ll be going back to.”
While he enjoyed the hub experience, he was also well aware of what he was missing out on this year. Brandon’s fans were a big part of his experience, as was the team’s work in the community, which included frequent visits to schools.
“Every opening for the season was not an atmosphere you can recreate,” Sekundiak said. “Hearing your name called and then just looking around the building and seeing a full house was really special. All the community stuff will always stick in my mind. Walking into schools and seeing the smiles on all the kids’ faces is not something you can forget.”
Sekundiak was fortunate to spend his entire career with billets Robyn and Rolly Richard, and their four children Quinlan, Liam, Autumn and Taiya. They quickly became a lot more than just the people he lived with.
“Right when I came there, it was a little different situation for me,” Sekundiak said. “I hadn’t billeted before then but they took me in as one of their own. They’re basically a second family to me.”
Sekundiak hasn’t spent much time reflecting on what will come next. When he gets home, he plans to sit down with his parents to explore his options, which certainly going to school.
He’ll never forget what came just before.
“The whole Wheat Kings organization, from (owner) Jared Jacobson down to our coaching staff and management staff and training staff to the media team,” Sekundiak said. “I think they’ve done a terrific job not just this year, but throughout my whole career. All those people are who made it happen.”