By Andrew Haubner

STOCKTON (CBS13) — The news was blindsiding. After seven years, the Stockton Heat, amid their best season in club history, are leaving town.

“That’s what makes it so bittersweet,” says longtime fan Debbie Kester.

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At the arena, merchandise flew off the shelves.

“We’re going to miss them!” Carol Relloque exclaims.

For Kester, what started as a mother-daughter activity turned into a lifelong fandom and stays a family affair.

“She skated as a kid so it was just fast skating,” Kester says. “Then got hooked on hockey and been back ever since. [My daughter and son-in-law] have moved out of state and everything so it’s near and dear to my heart. My grandkids came to all the games before they moved out of state.”

For David and Carrie Relloque, they caught the bug after their first game.

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“I love the fights!” jokes Carrie.

“They started fighting in the first five seconds [of the first game we attended] and she went, ‘Do they let them do that!?'” David recalls. “And she’s been hooked ever since.”

And while pro sports aren’t leaving the port city anytime soon — the Stockton Ports in single-A minor league baseball and Stockton Kings of the NBA G-League are still around — it ends an era in Stockton Arena that began with the ECHL Stockton Thunder and ends with the Heat.

“Hockey is a lot different than baseball and basketball. It’s a little more rough,” says David. “It’s unique. Not a lot of people out here play it as kids.”

“They did great community service with the schools and getting the kids involved, getting the families out and having family entertainment,” Debbie concludes.

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But fans will have the memories of the ice, and the Heat, forever.

Andrew Haubner