With September on the horizon, the smell of live hockey has slowly made its way to the WFCU Centre in Windsor. Just two weeks before their 2021-22 Training Camp, the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires have a new bench boss and he comes with plenty of experience.
It’s hard not to get excited over the anticipation of a new season. It’s been 17-months since the Spitfires last hit the ice before the league shut down due to COVID-19. While it’s been a long, grueling stretch, there is optimism. This Spring saw the 2021 OHL Priority Selection, the OHL Under-18 Draft, and the CHL Import Draft. The league then released its 2021-22 schedule and it’s only a short time before the players hit the ice. There was just one last piece of business to take care of this week – finalizing the coaching staff.
Who’s the new coach and what does he bring to the club? Let’s dive in.
The Marc Savard Era Begins
The search for a new bench boss started in late July when head coach Trevor Letowski took an offer to be an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens. While it’s a great opportunity for him, it left the Spitfires with a large hole on the bench. After an extensive search, one name was selected and the club couldn’t be happier.
On Tuesday, the Spitfires officially named Marc Savard as their new head coach.
Savard said the organization has been first-class from the start.
“It feels amazing; I have been waiting for this opportunity. The process has been first class all the way with (Spitfires’ general manager) Bill (Bowler) and ownership,” he said in a statement. “I want to be a head coach and earn my craft. I want to be here for a while and learn a lot. I can’t wait to get started.”
On Facebook Live, Bowler said Savard has the ability and drive to take the club to new levels.
“During the NHL Draft, I received a phone call, the following day I received an email, and from that moment on, we’ve been constantly talking and getting down to this important day,” said Bowler. “(He’s) an OHL champion, won the OHL scoring title twice and was an NHL all-star … (he’s) been an assistant coach in the NHL and he’s a man I feel has the vision and foresight to take the team to the next level.”
The 44-year-old Savard dominated the OHL from 1993-97, scoring 413 points in 238 games with the Oshawa Generals. A two-time NHL all-star, he played in over 800 NHL games until 2011. Unfortunately, his playing career ended early due to concussions and he was forced to officially retire in 2018. He spent 2019-20 as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues.
New Coaches, New Opportunity
While Savard was the focus, he wasn’t the only one brought on. The Spitfires also named LaSalle-native Andy Delmore as an assistant coach. He played four seasons in the OHL before a lengthy pro career. Delmore and Savard will join current associate coach Jerrod Smith (also now Director of Player Personnel), goaltending coach Perry Wilson, high-performance coach Brian O’Reilly, and skating coach Kathy McIlwain as the coaching staff.
Hiring Savard shows that Bowler and the ownership (Cypher Systems Group) are committed to long-term stability. With COVID-19 hurting everyone’s wallet, the Spitfires could have gone with someone in-house, such as Smith or Bowler. While both have the ability, they would have been temporary solutions. After this pandemic, stability is needed, and bringing in a young, driven coach who’s hungry to hone his craft was the right move. It also shows the club knows what the fans truly want – exciting, creative hockey.
Savard, who played with former Spitfires’ coach Bob Boughner on the Calgary Flames in 2001-02, ran the power play while behind the Blues’ bench. They converted at 24.3%, which was not only third-best in the NHL in 2019-20 but the third-best in team history (from “Savard steps down as boss of Blues’ power play,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/4/20).
That offensive mindset will benefit the Spitfires in 2021-22. Before the pandemic, they played a defensive style for Letowski, but it fell flat. With several players graduating since the pandemic started, a new, younger roster will be eager to let loose on the ice. A creative, offensive system will be something everyone appreciates.
With Savard, Delmore, and the rest of the coaches on board, the club can focus on the players returning and training camp getting underway. Camp is scheduled to begin in early September, with details announced soon.