When the Windsor Spitfires won their first two Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010, an organizational benchmark was set. However, both were won on the road, and there was still one thing left to accomplish – win the tournament at home. In 2017, their dream came true with a roster that was built to conquer. It’s been four years since that special season, and the roster has scattered around the world. It makes you wonder – what happened to them?
This is part three of our four-part “Where Are They Now?” series featuring the Spitfires and players of yesterday. In part one, we looked at the 2009 Memorial Cup, while part two had a spotlight on the 2010 championship. Now, in part three, we examine the most recent title, the 2017 event that saw a city come to life. From the anticipation to the final game heroics, the parade to the memories, it was a 10-day stretch for the ages. Some players headed to the pros, while others have gone their own way.
Sit back as we take a look at the new paths set out by four of the players from that historic roster.
Forward Cristiano DiGiacinto
Former Spitfires’ general manager Warren Rychel was known for making the big trade, whether it was to buy or rebuild. He did it with gusto and rarely apologized. Over a stretch of five seasons, though, he also went all-in for free agents, finding those serious diamonds in the rough. One of them – forward Cristiano DiGiacinto.
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Hamilton, Ontario-native was passed over in both the 2012 and 2013 OHL Drafts but drew the attention of the Erie Otters to start the 2013-14 season. He attended their camp as a free agent, but after not playing in any pre-season games, was cut by the club. Soon after heading back to Hamilton, Rychel saw the opportunity and jumped at it.
Having been without a first-round pick that off-season due to league sanctions, Rychel wasn’t taking any chances. DiGiacinto brought exactly what the Spitfires and its fans loved – grit, offence, and leadership. He did it all with 149 points and 369 penalty minutes in 223 games from 2013 to 2017. The fans loved him, and it was reciprocated. He became one of those most popular players on the team.
After the Spitfires won the championship, much of the roster was dismantled, either via trade or graduation, including DiGiacinto. What happened to this fan favourite?
DiGiacinto was originally a sixth-round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016. However, despite tryout agreements, he didn’t play a game for them. Instead, in 2017-18, he suited up in 12 games for the Jacksonville Icemen (ECHL), scoring six points and adding 30 PIM.
Before Christmas 2017, though, he made one final move, joining the Acadia Axemen (USports). The partnership has worked out well, with 53 points in 67 games from 2017 until now. Unfortunately, USports has been put on hold this season due to COVID-19.
Forward Julius Nattinen
During the summer of 2016, one of Rychel’s goals was to fill any roster holes with championship-caliber players. Coming into the 2016 CHL Import Draft, the club had Russian defenceman Mikhail Sergachev using one of their two import spots. They owned the 41st pick in the draft but drafting an elite talent at that spot was questionable.
Instead, Rychel made the bold move, acquiring 19-year-old forward Julius Nattinen from the Barrie Colts. In return, the Colts received 17-year-old defenceman Kyle Auger along with a pair of picks in the 2017 OHL Draft.
Nattinen had 71 points in 52 games for the Colts in 2015-16 and felt like a solid fit in the Spitfires’ lineup. Nobody set high expectations; just provide valuable depth and some leadership.
The Jyväskylä, Finland-native, did just that, scoring 38 points in 51 games and then adding another four points in four Memorial Cup games. However, as entertaining as Nattinen was, the Anaheim Ducks’ second-round pick in 2015 became a one-and-done with the Spitfires. What happened to this quiet but productive sniper?
In 2017-18, Nattinen made his way to the west coast, dressing for the San Diego Gulls (AHL). In 55 games, he scored four goals and 12 points. Unfortunately, his time in San Diego left as quickly as it came. After the season ended, he signed a three-year deal back home to play for JYP in Liiga (top Finnish league).
Nattinen played with JYP from 2018 to 2020, scoring 78 points in 95 games. This season, he’s dressing for Ambri-Piotta, which plays in the National League (top Swiss league), and he’s really found his scoring touch with 16 goals and 24 points in 23 games. JYP has paused its season due to COVID-19.
Defenceman Patrick Sanvido
During his time as GM, everyone knew that Rychel loved size and grit. A feisty team that was hard to play against was his bread-and-butter. That’s why it came as no surprise when the Spitfires drafted 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenceman Patrick Sanvido in the second-round of the 2012 OHL Draft.
The Guelph, ON-native wasn’t going to light the lamp or pound you into submission, but he was happy to use his size to grind you into the boards, and his leadership skills were unquestioned. Sanvido made the club in 2012-13 and didn’t look back. While he only managed five goals and 36 points in 250 games from 2012 to 2016, his value came in the room and community.
Growing to 6-foot-6, 230-pounds while with the club, the gentle giant was a mainstay in the community and was happy to help out wherever needed. Sanvido’s value became crystal clear when the Spitfires named him captain in 2014-15. He held the title until late December 2017, when the club traded him to the Sudbury Wolves (in return for a pair of picks).
What happened to the big defenceman after he left the Spitfires?
The Dallas Stars’ seventh-round pick in 2014 spent the rest of 2016-17 with the Wolves before heading to school. He joined Queens University (USports), where he played from 2017 to 2020. He has 28 points in 84 games for them so far and was named captain in September 2019. Unfortunately, the 2020-21 season has been paused due to COVID-19.
Forward Aaron Luchuk
Finally, we look at one of the most well-rounded players the Spitfires have had in the last decade – forward Aaron Luchuk.
Drafted by the Spitfires in the fourth-round in 2013, the club hoped t the Kingston, ON-native would eventually become an all-around leader. It worked out pretty well.
After a season with the LaSalle Vipers Jr. B, Luchuk joined the Spitfires in 2014-15. His point totals increased every season, including an impressive 28 goals and 60 points during the 2016-17 Memorial Cup season. He also added another four points in four tournament games, including the clincher in the final:
In 2017-18, the Spitfires named Luchuk as their new captain, and he responded with 28 goals and 51 points in just 30 games. He was the heart-and-soul of the club, on-and-off the ice. Unfortunately, the team was looking to rebuild, and his value was sky-high. In early December 2017, Rychel made the tough move.
Luchuk was traded to the Barrie Colts in return for 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward Curtis Douglas and three picks. It was the end of an era. What happened to this classy veteran?
His productive season continued, finishing atop the league with 50 goals and 115 points. That caught the eye of the Ottawa Senators, who signed Luchuk to an entry-level contract.
While he started with the Senators, his journey has been a slight whirlwind. From July 2019 through Feb 2020, Luchuk was traded from the Senators to the Toronto Maple Leafs, back to the Sens, and then to the Montreal Canadiens. While he spent time in the AHL, most of his pro career has been in the ECHL. In November 2020, he signed a one-year deal with the Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL) and has 15 points in 20 games so far.
Part Four Finale Coming Soon
As we wrap up our look at the Spitfires’ three Memorial Cup championships, the preparation begins for the series finale. In part four, we’ll go a different route, looking at some of the organization’s forgotten goaltenders over the last 20 years. Stay tuned!
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.