Memories of Memorial Cup victories inspire Spits to win on home ice
'I still remember the parades and seeing thousands of fans cheering us on'
Lounging on the couch in the living room with his father back in 2009-10, a young Michael DiPietro envisioned himself in the crease as the Windsor Spitfires won back-to-back Memorial Cups. Now, the Amherstburg native will be living his dream, deflecting pucks when the tourney kicks off on home ice Friday night.
"Just to be in my hometown, it's something special," said DiPietro, the Spits' starting goalie. "I will soak in every moment. It's going to be special sharing it with my family, especially my dad."
Walking out onto the ice for practice Wednesday at the WFCU Centre -- the first time the team has skated in that rink in six long weeks — DiPietro said he and his teammates were spoiling for action.
After being knocked out of the first round of the OHL playoffs during a nail-biting Game 7 against the London Knights, the team kept its training strategy secret during the off-time. Refreshed and well-rested, DiPietro said the team is ready to roll for Friday's opener against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
"Now, it's going to be business," said DiPietro.
'Back then it was just amazing'
Playing in a Memorial Cup is nothing new for Bob Boughner. He's now the team's president, but he was the head coach when that young team took the hockey world by storm -- and this city of hockey fans for a wild ride -- and became just the eighth team in tournament history to win back-to-back titles.
It was a highlight of his career, bouncing back from a near-loss to winning the entire championship. Looking back, Boughner said it was a very "special" and "resilient" group.
"Back then it was just amazing," said Boughner. "I still remember the parades and the fan fest we had here at the rink, bringing the cups back to town, getting off the plane and seeing thousands and thousands of fans cheering us on."
The happy memories are tinged with sadness because of the sudden, tragic death of the team's captain in 2008. Mickey Renaud was just 19 when he died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition.
"It was a very tough time. It was life-altering for all of us," said Boughner. "It really sort of inspired us to be one big family and push together for one common goal."
The Spits find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they enter this year's tournament.
They earned their berth to the Memorial Cups in 2009-10 by winning the OHL championship and were beat up and battle-hardened.
This time around they are only there because they are the host team. They are rested but haven't played a real, pressure-packed game for nearly six weeks.
"You can see the excitement in their eyes. They're healthy and they're fresh," Boughner said. "The first ten minutes of Game 1 is going to be real important to see if we can be patient ... and start getting back into the groove."