The Windsor Spitfires were the host team for the 2017 Memorial Cup. But after they lost a first-round playoff series, questions were raised as to how they would handle the down time.
It seems they did just fine, thank you.
Rocky Thompson, in his second season as the Spitfires’ head coach, staged what was in effect a 44-day training camp, and they were ready when the other teams — the Erie Otters, Saint John Sea Dogs and Seattle Thunderbirds — arrived at the WFCU Centre.
All the Spitfires did was go 4-0 in winning their third championship.
The tournament opened on May 19 with the hosts edging Saint John, 3-2, on Aaron Luchuk’s goal at 15:12 of the third period. Two days later, the Spitfires buried Seattle, 7-1, behind two goals from each of Graham Knott and Julius Nattinen, and 24 saves from Michael DiPietro. On May 24, in a clash of unbeaten teams, Jeremiah Addison scored three times and DiPietro stopped 33 shots in Windsor’s 4-2 victory over Erie.
The Otters had beaten Seattle, 4-2, and Saint John, 12-5. Dylan Strome set a single-game points record with seven, including four goals, in the victory over the Sea Dogs. The previous record of six had been shared by Joe Contini (Hamilton Fincups, 1976); Guy Rouleau (Hull Olympiques, twice in 1986); and Mike Mathers (Kamloops Blazers, 1992). Erie’s Taylor Raddysh had two goals and four assists against Saint John as the Otters set a single-game record with 12 goals. That broke the record of 11 that had been shared by the Quebec Remparts (1974) and Regina Pats (1980).
In the other round-robin game, Saint John beat Seattle, 7-0, behind 31 saves from Callum Booth. Seattle (0-3) was done.
On May 26, the Otters doubled the Sea Dogs, 6-3, in the semifinal.
Two days later, the Spitfires erased a 3-2 deficit to beat the Otters, 4-3. Knott tied the score on a power play at 14:53 of the second period, and Luchuk’s goal, at 5:07 of the third, snapped the tie. Jeremy Bracco scored once and set up two others, including the winner. DiPietro stopped 32 shots.
“My guys are amazing,” Thompson said.“We saw what they’ve gone through here. We witnessed what they had to go through during that break. It’s an amazing feeling and an amazing thing that those guys did.
“Everybody bought in no matter who it was, staff, management, ownership and the players. They’re champions for a reason – they’re amazing.”
Windsor’s Warren Rychel became the third general manager to win three Memorial Cups, joining Matt Leyden (Oshawa Generals, 1939, 1940, 1944) and Bob Brown (Kamloops, 1992, 1994, 1995).
Interestingly, three of the head coaches — Thompson, Erie’s Kris Knoblauch and Seattle’s Steve Konowalchuk — played and coached in the WHL, and all joined pro teams over the summer. Meanwhile, Flynn left Saint John, then joined the Portland Winterhawks as an assistant coach.
2017 Windsor Spitfires:
Jeremiah Addison, Tyler Angle, Brock Baier, Luke Boka, Jeremy Bracco, Logan Brown, Jalen Chatfield, Connor Corcoran, Mario Culina, Sean Day, Cristiano DiGiacinto, Michael DiPietro, Graham Knott, Adam Laishram, Aaron Luchuk, Hayden McCool, Austin McEneny, Julius Nattinen, Tyler Nother, Chris Playfair, Cole Purboo, Daniel Robertson, Mikhail Sergachev, Logan Stanley, Gabriel Vilardi, Warren Rychel (Manager), Rocky Thompson (Coach).
NHL: Rychel won a Stanley Cup in 1996 with the Colorado Avalanche and played 8 NHL seasons with 5 different teams.