Windsor - December 4, 2013 - As a relative newcomer to Windsor, I was excited for the beginning of last year's Windsor Spitfires season. All indications pointed to them having a solid year in 2012-13, but the true focus was on making a run to host and win the Memorial Cup this year. The team tagline was fittingly - Reloaded!
Sadly, a lot of things have played out differently than the Spits had hoped. First, there was the OHL fine and loss of draft picks due to the teams drafting practices. Then there was the disappointing on ice effort that saw the team finish near the bottom of the standings and out of the playoffs.
The CHL decided to award the Memorial Cup to London and passed on Barrie and Windsor. As Steve Bell of AM800 said, Dave Branch likes to move the tournament around - one year in the west, one year in Québec and the next year in London.
Despite all these bumps in the road, there was lots of optimism surrounding the team over the summer. Much like the resilience of the city itself, the team had bounced back. The new tagline became Our Town, Our Team – again very fitting.
Kerby Rychel was picked in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Slater Koekkoek was coming back from long term injury and it was shaping up to be a veteran laden team.
It was a tough start to the season. Wins were hard to come by, Calgary Flames prospect Pat Sieloff announced he was turning pro and the team received very inconsistent goaltending.
Then it started to turn for the better. Alex Fotinos was brought in from the Barrie Colts and he has stood on his head. Rychel has been on fire posting 16 goals and 39 points in 27 games – placing him 13th in OHL scoring. This week, Rychel was named to the Team Canada selection camp - one of only 25 Canadians. The team has currently won 13 of their last 17 games and sits in second in the Western conference - just three and a half games out of first. This was a playoff team.
Any sports fan will tell you that sometimes all a team needs to do is make the playoffs and anything can happen. See Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12 and the New York Giants in 2011 as recent examples.
Yesterday's trade of Rychel and Kings prospect Nick Ebert is a real head scratcher. The OHL trade deadline isn't until early January. Yet, the Spits sent Rychel and Ebert to the Guelph Storm in exchange for Brody Milne and eight draft picks. Milne has 15 points and 10 penalty minutes in 28 games this year, so clearly this is a trade for the future and not now.
Often when you see something like this happen - you feel as though there has to be more to the story. Sometimes it is that the star player is a problem in the room, but in this case he's the General Manager's kid, the team captain and leader. Doesn't seem like the reason.
Is this an effort by the Spitfires to build for a run to host the Memorial Cup in 2017?
Is the Spits dislike for the Hunter-lead London Knights so strong they wanted to stack the "other" top team in the OHL? This makes Guelph, ranked fourth in the country, an even stronger Cup contender now.
Does GM Rychel want LW Rychel to win a Memorial Cup and feels this gives him the best shot? You know he wasn't going to London.
Has the team thrown in the towel on this season? Wouldn't it have made more sense to add players to compliment Rychel and Ebert?
Many thought that due to his off-ice challenges this summer that Ben Johnson might get moved for a bag of picks. Was there no interest in #12?
I don't get it.
Two things are clear as a result of the trade. First, it will take years to determine how the Spitfire fared in this deal - depending on what the picks turn out to be and how those players develop. Second, the Spits were a better team last weekend than they will be this weekend.
A disappointing trade for the 2013-14 Spits fans and sponsors. Our Town, Our Team - Storm Reloaded.