It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the game; a big trade is going to give any general manager (GM) anxiety. In 2010, former Windsor Spitfires’ GM Warren Rychel pulled off a blockbuster, adding to his young but impressive resume. While the deal was a calculated risk, it solidified the club’s dynasty.
Rychel had only been a GM for five seasons, but his approach was well-known; wheel, deal, and let the chips fall where they may. He built with gusto and tore down just the same. After winning the 2009 Memorial Cup, the Spitfires were primed for a repeat performance. However, they weren’t going to enter the playoffs quietly. That just wasn’t Rychel’s style. Instead, they pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Belleville Bulls (now the Hamilton Bulldogs) and it became a rare deal that kept on giving from both sides.
How did this monster unfold? Let’s take a look.
Breaking Down the Trade
Just one year prior, Rychel had made a large deal with the Kitchener Rangers that involved eight players and picks. The deal gave the Spitfires the ideal depth to win the 2009 Memorial Cup. So, why not try for lightning in a bottle again?
On Jan. 4, 2010, Rychel and the Bulls met up on a titanic deal. Here’s how it went down…
- Goaltender Phillip Grubauer
- Defenceman Marc Cantin
- Forward Stephen Johnston
- Bulls’ 15th-round pick 2013
- Goaltender Steve Gleeson
- Forward Richard Panik
- Forward Austen Brassard
- Defenceman Paul Bezzo
- Owen Sound Attack’s third-round pick 2010
- Attack’s second-round pick 2012
- Spitfires’ seventh-round pick 2012
- Spitfires’ 15th-round pick 2011
- Spitfires’ 15th-round pick 2013
Not only were there a lot of pieces involved, but the trade didn’t truly play out until several seasons later.
Spitfires Finalize Elite Roster
After their 2009 Memorial Cup championship, the Spitfires entered 2009-10 with a nearly identical roster. They lost a few key pieces, including defenceman Ben Shutron, forward Andrei Loktionov, and goaltender Andrew Engelage, but still had their general core.
Rychel wasn’t completely satisfied, though. You knew he was going to make the moves to push aside all doubt.
His big acquisition was the veteran Grubauer. The 18-year-old Rosenheim, Germany-native was lights-out for the Bulls from 2008-10. After Engelage’s graduation into the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system, the Spitfires had free-agent walk-on Troy Passingham in goal. He was solid but needed help, and they couldn’t risk him being injured.
Grubauer became the team’s rock in goal, playing in 18-of-21 playoff games and all four Memorial Cup games en route to their second championship in as many seasons.
After the season, the Spitfires traded Grubauer to the Kingston Frontenacs in a package deal. One of the pieces they got back turned into offensive forward Alexander Khokhlachev.
Not to be outdone, Cantin and Johnston became vital parts to the roster.
In 2008-09, Rychel brought in the 20-year-old Shutron from the Kitchener Rangers in a blockbuster. Why not try to strike gold again? The 19-year-old Cantin wasn’t flashy, but a sound, reliable defenceman the club needed.
Johnston played in the 2008 Memorial Cup and was expected to bring that experience to the Spitfires. Initially, he was used in a special team’s role with the club and scored nine points in 18 games. However, in 2010-11, he moved up the depth charts and responded with 50 points in 68 games in his final season.
What happened to that 15th-round pick in 2013? It made its way back to the Bulls who selected center William Ward, who stayed in Ontario Junior A hockey until retiring in 2016.
Bulls Capitalize on Depth
After making the Eastern Conference Final in 2008-09, the Bulls were in rebuild mode and looking at the future. This deal gave them some key pieces that worked both short- and long-term.
One of the bigger pieces was then-Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Richard Panik. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-winger gave the Bulls some scoring and character. He scored 54 points in 54 games from 2010-11 before being traded to the Guelph Storm at the next trade deadline. The Bulls got power forward Carter Sandlak in that deal.
The Bulls also got forward Austen Brassard, the Spitfires’ first-round pick in 2009. He was projected to be a power forward and generally lived up to the hype. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Windsor-native scored 135 points and 252 penalty minutes in 219 games with the Bulls from 2010-13. Both he and Sandlake were key parts to the club’s Eastern Conference Final run in 2012-13.
The two other players brought in — Bezzo and Gleeson — didn’t do much for the Bulls. Bezzo played in 23 games before heading to the University of Windsor (via the BCHL), while Gleeson had stints in the OJHL and QMJHL before playing for Ryerson University from 2011-14.
Oodles of Picks
While the players were helpful for the Bulls, the picks also played a factor in their future.
The third-round pick in 2010 turned into goaltender Daniel Altshuller. He played in Junior A before being traded to the Oshawa Generals in a multi-pick deal in 2011. He became a prominent starter from 2011-14 before moving on to the pros.
That second-round pick in 2012 made its way to the Storm in the Panik deal. They selected defenceman Kyle Locke, who played in 84 games. The seventh-round pick in 2012 wound up with the Kitchener Rangers who selected forward Ty Learn. While he played in 11 games for them, the majority of his time from 2012-17 was in the GOJHL.
Finally, the 15-round pick in 2011 ended up with the Plymouth Whalers (now Flint Firebirds) and they took defenceman Matt Miller. He stayed in the USHL until 2016 when he became an Ohio State Buckeye.
While most 15th-round picks never see the light of day, the 15th-rounder in 2013 became quite the interesting twist. It found its way to the London Knights who selected forward Sam Miletic out of Cranbrook Kingswood High School in Bloomfield Hills, MI. He is now a promising prospect with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After going the USHL-route in 2014-15, Miletic decommitted from the University of Michigan and signed with Knights in 2015. He played 135 games for them over two seasons with 123 points before being traded to the Niagara IceDogs in 2017-18.
It’s a Win-Win
Any time you make a deal, you want both sides to benefit from it in some way. That doesn’t always happen, though.
In this blockbuster, the Spitfires struck gold in getting the three valuable pieces to their 2010 Memorial Cup championship. Plus, not only did Johnston return for a final season in 2010-11, helping the team to the OHL Western Conference Final, but they turned Grubauer and Cantin into several high picks. Rychel took a chance and it paid off in spades over time.
The Bulls did exactly what they needed for their rebuild. While Brassard was the only one to stick with the club for more than 100 games, Panik and the picks all played significant roles in shaping the club over the next few seasons. Those pieces helped the team get to the Eastern Conference Final in 2011-12, which isn’t an easy feat in itself.
Rychel dropped the mic when he made the colossal deal with the Rangers in 2009. This time, he went for it again and hit it out of the park. The deal helped the Spitfires become the first CHL team since the Kamloops Blazers (1994 and 1995) to win back-to-back Memorial Cups, putting the stamp on an OHL dynasty.
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.