It was the spring of 1999 when Nathan Lutz's Junior hockey career came to an end with the Yorkton Terriers with the heartbreaking Royal Bank Cup semi final loss on home ice.
But for Lutz the loss was not the end of hockey. In fact it was just the start of a long career which continues to this day with Lutz taking a new step this season as a player assistant coach with the Chicago Express of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).
"I ended up with the Express because of the head coach there," said Lutz. "He was the coach in Rockford (United Hockey League) when we won the championship, and I had also played for him in Elmira (ECHL). The chance of being player/assistant coach was the main reason why I went to the Express. I knew it would be a great opportunity to get my foot in the door in the coaching side of things."
In terms of coaching Lutz said it has been a learning experience for him.
"My role as a coach consisted of a wide range of things; helping out the younger guys with system things and just how to conduct yourself as a professional on and off the ice," he said. "It was also running parts of practice and talking with the coach about players and hockey decisions that needed to be made.
"As for adapting to coaching, it was a definite learning experience. I think it was a lot harder being a player at the same time because it's a fine line to walk when you want to be one of the guys, but then you have to be the coach in some situations as well.
"I couldn't just focus on myself and my play, I had to always be thinking of the team as well and what I could do to help the team from a coaching standpoint."
Lutz said learning to be a coach, and playing on an expansion franchise did create an interesting, and sometimes trying situation.
"It was a challenging season for the Express this year," he said. "As we were an expansion team, we had all new players in a new place that hadn't had a hockey program developed. Usually with a team, they have a core of seven-eight players that have been there before. We had all new players so it was hard to get everyone on the same page so quickly."
The situation was one Lutz said did have its advantages in terms of his learning the coaching side of the equation.
"It definitely helped me out as a coach because there was a lot of adversities to overcome and I was put in a lot of learning situations that I had to deal with that maybe I wouldn't have been put in with an established organization," he explained.
"As for our season, we needed to get two points in our last game to make playoffs and we ended up losing in overtime to end our season. It was a very tough way to go out as we had won our previous seven games to get us to that point."
The loss also ended a very long playoff appearance string for the veteran defenceman.
"It was the first time in my career that I had not made playoffs but to look at the positives, I learned a lot more about myself as a player and hockey in general by losing," he said. "It sounds weird but I know a lot about winning and have won a lot but you don't learn a lot of things until you actually lose.
"It would have been nice to make it, but I think I am a lot better off going through that situation and learning a lot more that I can take and use later on."
In between Lutz' time with the Terriers and the Express he has played for 13 different teams in six different leagues in three different countries.
Lutz said his longevity in the sport was never expected.
"I always wanted to play hockey as long as I could but I don't think I could have imagined playing for as long as I have," he told Yorkton This Week. "I wasn't a big prospect or anything like that, and I played with a lot of players with a lot more skill than me but I think the reason I am still playing is my will to win, and that I play every game like it's my last.
"I am very blessed to still be able to do what I love.
"This year it kind of set in how long I actually have been playing when I played my 600th pro game. That's a lot of games and I am very fortunate to be able to say that I played that many. It has been an amazing ride and I wouldn't change anything about it."
Along the long, winding road Lutz has taken as a pro player, there have been some big moments.
"When I look at my career, there has been a lot of highlights," he said. "Just getting to play in the AHL (American Hockey League), and winning a Calder Cup is a big memory and also being able to play overseas was a chance of a lifetime."
"But what stands out in my head was when I was a part of the Colonial Cup champion team in Rockford. I had played there parts of four years and I was the captain of the team and to be able to win the title at home in Game 7 was something I will never forget. To be able to hoist that Cup was a feeling I have never had and it gives me goosebumps even talking about it.
"I am very fortunate to be able to have experienced something like that because a lot of players never get a chance to win a championship."
Lutz may yet carry another cup around the ice as a player since he said he is not yet ready to hang up his skates and go behind the bench.
"I still have a couple of years of playing left," he said the 34-year-old. "I had a really good season this year. I had a slow start and really had to change the way I approach the game mentally and physically. I realized that the longer I play, I have to get in better shape. I am always the oldest guy on the ice and I have to be in even better shape than I was to keep up with the 21-24 year old kids.
"But I still have the passion and the skill to play so I am going to keep doing it."
Working exclusively with the Xs and Os will come later.
"As for coaching, I am going to coach after I am done playing for sure," he said. "I have been through a lot in my career and I know that I could coach and do a great job at it.
"Whether it be the pro ranks or even back in the SJHL (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League), I want to pass on what I know and help guys be better hockey players, and also be better people in general. I have learned a lot more than how to play hockey in my years. It's also a lot of how to handle yourself off the ice and a lot of the lessons you learn on the ice translate to other aspects of your life. I learned a lot of that kind of stuff from the coach in Winnipeg, Claude Noel. I had him as my coach my first year in Toledo (ECHL) and also when we won the Calder Cup in Milwaukee (AHL). He was the best coach I have ever had and it's because he taught more than hockey skills, he taught life skills as well and that is why he is a coach in the NHL."