This Sunday evening, watch the Windsor Spitfires win their second consecutive Memorial Cup. That’s right, win. They’ll play either the Calgary Hitmen or Brandon Wheat Kings. But Windsor’s opponent is inconsequential. The Spitfires are way too good. Way too savvy. Way too experienced to lose. And a second straight Memorial Cup will put them in very elite company.
Since 1972, when the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association created the designation of “major junior” hockey and initiated a round-robin format for the Memorial Cup, just four teams have won two in a row. Ernie “Punch” McLean’s New Westminster Bruins were the roughest, toughest bunch of rogues in the Western Canada Hockey League. Believe it or not, John Ogrodnick, Stan Smyl and Barry Beck were the “nice” guys on those 1977 and ’78 clubs. That’s because defenceman Boris Fistric racked up 414 penalty minutes in the Bruins’ repeat season. Those Bruins scared everyone – children, dogs, professional wrestlers, their own mothers.
In 1980 and ’81, Dale Hawerchuk, Scott Arniel and Marc Crawford (the current Dallas Stars’ coach) made the Cornwall Royals the crème of the QMJHL. They savoured two championships. In the late ’80s, Bryan Maxwell coached Mark Pederson, Trevor Linden and the Medicine Hat Tigers to two Cups. And the last team to turn the trick did it 15 years ago.
Darcy Tucker and Shane Doan powered the Kamloops Blazers to three Memorial Cups in four years, including two in a row in 1994 and ’95. Perhaps you noticed that none of these remarkable clubs are from the Ontario Hockey League. Bob Boughner’s Windsor Spitfires will be the first.
The offensive talent level in Windsor is staggering. LW Taylor Hall WILL be the Edmonton Oilers’ choice at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. If Oilers’ GM Steve Tambellini chooses Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin, he’ll regret it forever. It’s that simple. Hall scored 17 times in 19 OHL playoff games, at just 18 years old. Blueliner Ryan Ellis is equally impressive, setting up 30 goals as the Spitfires rolled to the OHL’s Robertson Cup championship. Ellis belongs to the Nashville Predators who, soon, could have Shea Weber, Kevin Klein, Ryan Suter and Ellis on the back end.
But what makes the Spits unbeatable is the core group after the big two. Centre Adam Henrique scores more big goals than anyone on the team. RW Justin Shugg is vastly underrated. In fact, the Spits are so stacked up front, that their goaltending is almost never mentioned.
Last year, netminder Andrew Engelage hoisted the Memorial Cup. This year, it will be German-born Philipp Grubauer. He stops all the pucks he needs to stop. General manager Warren Rychel has done an impressive job of building this Spitfires’ juggernaut. Especially when you consider it came on the heels of the massive black eye the Spitfires gave the OHL in September 2005. That’s when Steve Downie and rookie Akim Aliu were involved in a very ugly, and well-publicized hazing incident resulting in then-GM Moe Mantha being suspended for an entire season. And don’t forget that, in February of 2008, Spitfires’ captain, and Calgary Flames’ draft choice, Mickey Renaud collapsed and died at home – the result of a rare heart condition. Great joy has followed great sadness in Windsor.
Make sure you watch on Sunday. It will be history in the making – by an unforgettable major junior hockey team.