By Susan Lulgjuraj
The Press of Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Scott Horvath and Fraser Clair stood side by side in the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies’ locker room as they have done all season on Monday.
Clair was making jokes as usual. The class clown never has a quiet moment and Horvath was laughing a long.
The locker-room neighbors prepared together all season and shared many jokes along the way, but this time was the last time.
They emptied their lockers, piece by piece, burying their equipment into their bags.
Horvath, who with the Bullies since last season, used his old UMass hockey bag, Clair, like many other players, improvised with a garbage bag.
And like that, their time with the Bullies was over.
The franchise was sold to ownership group in Stockton, Calif., where it will resume play next season.
“It’s like losing a brother,” Clair said. “These guys know everything about you, you know everything about them. It’s going to be tough not seeing them every day.”
They will see each for another few days. They have a planned golf outing today, but that might be it.
Players will start departing for their respective homes Thursday. Some players will linger into the weekend.
“It takes a while for it to sink in,” Horvath said. “Then you finally start to realize it’s over. I think the toughest thing is not knowing about next year.”
The front office will vacate Boardwalk Hall next Friday and like the players, uncertainties lie ahead for all. None of them has a job lined up for next season.
“I think the success we have enjoyed has put me in a very good situation at this level,” Atlantic City coach Matt Thomas said. “But there is just a big question mark.”
Atlantic City had to put together a list of six to eight players for Stockton to protect. Stockton will have the opportunity to sign those players and will control their rights within the ECHL.
If those players choose not to play for Stockton, they can play in another league or have their rights traded to another team.
The protected players have yet to be disclosed, but the only player who is definitely not going to be on it is Ian Walterson, who has rooted himself in Egg Harbor Township.
Walterson was noticeably missing from Sunday’s game and the locker room on Monday. The team captain was the cornerstone for Atlantic City through its four seasons.
He left Wednesday’s game with an unknown injury and since has been in Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point after suffering a stroke.
“It hard for us. A lot of guys have such a tight bond, like me and (Dave) Reid and Walterson,” said Jake Moreland who was on the team since the 2002-03 season when Atlantic City won the Kelly Cup. “(Walterson) is definitely a guy we would have liked to have in the locker room. Without him in the lineup it takes some of the edge away.”
There were still some who chose to take the day laughing and joking with their friends, rather than emptying their lockers – holding off the inevitable.
But by the end of the week, the locker room will be bare with only the stench of hockey left behind.
If the sudden end to the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies wasn’t felt Sunday, the feeling was overwhelming on Monday when they gathered in the locker room as a group for the last time.
“In college it’s a little different because only four or five guys leave every year,” Jason Notermann said. “You never know if you’re going to see these guys ever again. I didn’t want it to be over. I couldn’t imagine playing without these guys.”