From glory to gutter and back to glory, it’s safe to say the 2010s were a chaotic decade for the Windsor Spitfires. They made headlines around the hockey world for some great reasons and a few they’d probably rather leave in the decade.
This is the final instalment of our series that looks back at the Spitfires through the 2010s. Here’s what we’ve done so far:
Now, it’s all about the newsmakers that had hockey fans gasping, for better or worse. Let’s look back at the top five newsworthy moments from the Spitfires’ 2010s.
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5. Drafting Michael DiPietro
It’s rare that drafting a goaltender in the second round would become such a big deal for a club. Yet, here we are.
When former general manager Warren Rychel picked the Amherstburg-native Michael DiPietro in 2015, fans had no idea what was about to happen.
After a carousel of goaltenders through the early 2010s, DiPietro brought instant stability, professionalism, and talent to the roster.
From his first game, you knew this kid was something special. His calm, cool demeanour in net was unmatched and the team showed confidence in front of him. It gave everyone a boost, whether it was a big home game or a road trip. When you shut out three-straight clubs on the road, all during Teddy Bear Toss games, that says a lot!
On his road to stardom, DiPietro broke the Spitfires’ record for shutouts and wins, helped them win the 2017 Memorial Cup, earned the Key to the Town of Amherstburg, was the most popular player in recent memory, and really became the face of the franchise. It made his trade to the Ottawa 67’s in Dec. 2018 that much more difficult.
You cannot have a list like this and not include DiPietro. He’s our #5 newsmaker of the decade.
4. 2010 Memorial Cup Win
Imagine having a team that includes Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Ryan Ellis, Cam Fowler, and Philipp Grubauer. Say hello to the 2010-edition of the Spitfires.
After winning the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouski, the Spitfires dominated the OHL in 2009-10, winning 50 games. They didn’t lose back-to-back regulation games throughout the regular season.
In the playoffs, they swept the Erie Otters and Plymouth Whalers before going down 3-0 to the Kitchener Rangers in the Western Conference Final. Game 4 saw the teams tied 4-4 with eight minutes to go. The Spitfires scored three of the next four, including the game-winner with two minutes left, to take a 7-5 win. Three more dramatic wins later and they completed the 0-3 comeback to head to the OHL Final.
There, they faced the 12-1 Barrie Colts. After two close wins in Barrie, the Spitfires dominated the next two at home for the incredible sweep. They were off to Brandon for the 2010 Memorial Cup.
In the Memorial Cup, Hall, Henrique, and Ellis helped the Spitfires sweep the round-robin, going 3-0 and outscoring the opponents 19-8. It brought them right to the tournament final against the hometown Brandon Wheat Kings.
While the Wheat Kings had lost just 18 games all season, their fans were not confident. The Spitfires had beaten them 9-3 in the round-robin and the feeling was they were just happy to be there.
A balanced attack in the final game did a number on the Wheat Kings’ confidence. The Spitfires outshot them 52-27, never letting up offensively, and took the convincing 9-1 win. It was back-to-back Memorial Cups!
This was as sweet of a start to the decade as you can get and it deserves the #4 newsmaker of the 2010s!
3. The Sanctions
From the highs to an ugly low – the sanctions were a turning point for the franchise early in the decade.
In 2009, the OHL Board of Governors developed the OHL Enforcement Program involving recruitment rules and the relating violation penalties.
The OHL came down hard on the club, stripping them of their first-round picks in 2013, 2014, and 2016, their second-round picks in 2015 and 2017, plus $400,000 in fines.
The Spitfires denied everything while stating there was no evidence and the due process was not done. (from ‘Windsor Spitfires fined $400K, loses five draft picks for violating recruitment rules’, Windsor Star – 8/11/2012)
Shortly after the ruling, the OHL reduced the fine to $250,000 and gave back the Spitfires’ first-round pick in 2014 (which became Logan Stanley).
The Spitfires weren’t the only team to get the hammer, either. A few months later, the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) were given even harsher penalties for recruitment violations. The team came clean and made the details public.
While various players, and whistleblowers, have routinely come up in discussion, both the OHL and Spitfires have remained quiet. It does make you wonder what would have happened if the team put everything out in the open like the Winterhawks.
The sanctions forced Rychel to get creative for several seasons. While it worked out at times, such as acquiring the pick that ended up being DiPietro, missing two first-rounders was tough. Imagine if they drafted Mitch Marner (first round 2013) or Liam Foudy (first round 2016)? Those are two cornerstone players.
This was a franchise-changing moment and worthy of the #3 newsmaker for the 2010s.
2. 2017 Memorial Cup Win
After back-to-back Memorial Cup titles in 2009 and 2010, there was just one thing left for the Spitfires to do – win it at home.
In 2016, the club made a formal bid. Soon after, they got good news. The Spitfires were the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup hosts!
Rychel went all-out, bringing in talents like Jeremiah Addison and Jeremy Bracco to complete his ideal club.
It was a historic season. For the first season in conference history, four teams had at least 99 points, putting the Spitfires’ 90 points into the fifth seed and a date with the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights.
The Spitfires jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. However, the Knights’ experience took over, taking it at home in Game 7. It wasn’t the ending the team wanted but now they had to get ready for bigger fish.
Management put the club through a rigorous 44-day boot camp. When it was done, though, the team was ready for anything the CHL could throw at them.
From the opening game, the Spitfires showed the CHL that they were the real deal. The Spitfires swept the round-robin, including a dramatic 6-3 win over the Otters in the final game, giving them a berth in the tournament final.
There, they faced the Otters again, looking for the knockout shot. It was one for the ages with multiple lead changes. Finally, in the third period, Spitfires’ veteran Aaron Luchuk planted the game-winner, sending the fans into a nervous frenzy. As the final buzzer sounded, the stands were shaking. This is what everyone had waited for.
Co-captains Addison and Jalen Chatfield held the Memorial Cup high above their heads – the new champs!
It became one of the best moments in franchise history and our #2 newsmaker of the decade.
1. The Parekh Sale Blunder
How do you top two Memorial Cups? With the sale heard around the world.
After being swept by the Knights in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, the Spitfires were preparing for the 2019 OHL Priority Selection – or so we thought.
Days before the draft, rumours swirled about a possible sale of the team. Dr. Azim Parekh of Markham was the name floating around. However, the organization kept quiet about it and the draft went on as planned on Apr. 6.
Rychel made heads turn when he selected defenceman Isa Parekh out of the Toronto region in the fifth round. The youngster was rated much lower and, at just 134-pounds, didn’t have the strength needed for the OHL.
Three days later, the Spitfires finally released a statement that acknowledged a sale was being discussed, but no names were given. The next day, at the Under-18 Draft, Rychel selected Isa’s brother Aydin in the first round. That was the move that sealed it all. The firestorm was on.
Isa and Ayden were Azim’s sons and the optics were nothing short of a disaster. It garnered attention throughout hockey. Even the Spitfires’ top pick, Wyatt Johnston, said nothing until early summer.
The firestorm worked as, a month later, the Spitfires cancelled the Parekh deal and restructured their ownership. The Cypher Systems Group would take the majority share.
Two months later, Rychel stepped down as GM, replaced by Vice President of Hockey Operations, Bill Bowler. The Parekh boys showed up to training camp but were cut before any preseason games.
This was one of the strangest times in Spitfires’ history. From absolutely nothing to total chaos, then back to quiet again, it shook the organization to the core. It deserves to be named the team’s top newsmaker for the 2010s.
No matter how you slice it, the Spitfires went through the emotional wringer over the past decade. They saw the peaks of junior hockey, but also its ugly side. The club learned, grew, celebrated, and now looks forward to what the next decade will bring.
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