Moments after his Windsor Spitfires won the MasterCard Memorial Cup, head coach Bob Boughner's family joined him on the ice to celebrate the junior hockey championship.
"Are you crying, Dad?" one of his young daughters asked. Boughner's eyes indeed did water after the Spitfires easily handled the Kelowna Rockets 4-1 yesterday. But the tears from the former rugged NHL defenceman were shed on several levels.
First, if there is a Canadian city that needs a reason to party, it's Windsor, which has been slapped in the face by the failing economy and a slumping auto industry. That was evident last night when hundreds of citizens jammed downtown Windsor to celebrate the city's first major junior championship.
There also was the sudden death of Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud 15 months ago, when he collapsed at home from a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Finally, like Boughner, the Spitfires' franchise was trying to make the most of a second chance. When Boughner, a native of Windsor, played junior for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, his trip to the 1991 Memorial Cup was marred by three consecutive losses in the round robin. When the Spitfires made their only other visit to the Memorial Cup, in 1988, they lost in the final to the Medicine Hat Tigers.
"Before we left for Rimouski, I met with Tom Webster [who coached the Spitfires in 1988]" Boughner said. "He told me to finish what you didn't finish. We did.
"This group is a resilient bunch. We talked about perseverance and character and that's what this bunch is all about."
The Spitfires dropped games to the champion of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, and the host Rimouski Océanic to begin the tournament last weekend for their first back-to-back losses of the season. The defeats put the Spitfires one loss away from going home. But they stayed alive with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over the Rockets last Tuesday.
Then they beat the Océanic 6-4 in a tiebreaker on Thursday and scored a 3-2 overtime win in the semi-final against Drummondville on Friday. Their fourth win in six days was relatively easy against the Rockets when Kelowna goalie Mark Guggenberger showed plenty of rust after his team's five-day layoff and yielded three goals on three shots before the game was five minutes old.
"This means everything for us to do it for [the city of Windsor]" said Spitfires captain Harry Young, a native of Windsor. "Being a local kid, they have been talking about that 1988 team for so many years. Now they're going to be talking about us. We made history here and it feels really good."
There also was plenty of emotion for their fallen teammate, the 19-year-old Renaud. When the coaches and players leapt over the boards as the final seconds ticked off, assistant coach Mark Turner carried Renaud's No.18 sweater into the wild celebration.
"I think he's definitely here in spirit," Windsor forward Eric Wellwood said. "We dedicated this season to him and this was as much for him and his family as it was for us and the city of Windsor."
Wellwood also grew up in Windsor and has been touched by the struggling local economy. His father and uncle both worked at one time for General Motors.
"I'm glad we are finally bringing it home for the entire city to celebrate," he said. "They need it and deserve it, too."
The players praised Boughner, general manager Warren Rychel and co-owner Peter Dobrich - the three bought the team in April of 2006 - as well as assistant coaches Bob Jones and D.J. Smith for turning around the franchise that was humiliated by a hazing incident eight months before the ownership change.
"They pieced the puzzle together," Young said. "This is the group they came up with and it's been an incredible journey. You can't give those guys enough credit."
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