While every game is important on the OHL calendar, Feb. 18 is of particular importance for the Windsor Spitfires. It is the day they pay tribute to a player, a son, a captain. Mickey Renaud.
Last Saturday night, in front of over 6,200 fans, the Spitfires remembered Renaud prior to their game against the Guelph Storm.
The date Feb. 18, 2008, will forever mark the day that the Spitfires’ organization changed. It was Family Day and the team had a fan skate planned at the old Windsor Arena. Players were arriving at the rink to meet the fans, sign autographs and talk hockey. Spitfires’ captain Renaud was getting ready at his house in Tecumseh when the catastrophe hit.
Renaud, 19, collapsed suddenly while eating breakfast with family and some teammates. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. Despite all efforts to save him on the way to the hospital, he was pronounced dead.
Renaud’s Touch Reaches Near and Far
The news shook the city. Windsor gathered around their fallen captain and his team. Renaud’s funeral was attended by over a thousand people, including family, friends, fans and teammates.
An autopsy revealed Renaud died from an undetected heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. This is where the heart muscles enlarge causing blood flow issues, creating potential cardiac arrest. It’s considered a leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest among many age groups, especially younger athletes.
In the days following his death, tributes poured in from around the nation. Businesses throughout Windsor posted condolences to Renaud and Don Cherry did a tribute to Renaud on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coaches Corner. Renaud was a draft pick of the Calgary Flames and many believed he would soon be a regular in the Flames’ lineup.
Here is a clip of Renaud talking about his draft rankings prior to the draft:
The Spitfires took 10-days off following Renaud’s death. They returned to the ice on Feb. 28 to play against the Belleville Bulls (now Hamilton Bulldogs). Fans braved the cold weather to wait in line to pack the Windsor Arena for the pre-game warm-up in a show of support. Prior to the game, the Spitfires wore red “Renaud 18” jerseys while the Bulls surprised the fans by wearing white “Renaud 18” jerseys.
The Spitfires also played a tribute video to Renaud and his family was involved in the ceremonial puck drop. After the game, the Spitfires raised their sticks at center ice to thank the fans. The Bulls remained on the ice to show support and the teams engaged in an impromptu handshake. You can watch that video here:
Legacy Lives On
During the opening night of the 2008-09 season, the Spitfires raised Renaud’s “18” to the rafters in Windsor Arena. The banner hangs proudly over the Spitfires’ bench in the new WFCU Centre. The team also joined forces with the City of Windsor to name the street outside the WFCU Centre “Mickey Renaud Way.”
When you walk through the front doors of the WFCU Centre, Renaud’s locker greets you, just as it stood on that dark February morning. The Spitfires have painted an “18” behind each net in the rink and there is a tribute to Renaud in multiple locations along the rink boards. All players also have an “18” label on their helmets.
In Nov. 2008, the Spitfires established the Mickey Renaud Memorial Scholarship Fund. It gives $3,000 annually to one male and one female senior high school athlete in Windsor, Essex or Lambton counties. The student must have at least an 80-percent average, be actively involved in sports in their senior year and intend to pursue a Computer Science, Computer Programming or similar program at St. Clair College.
A few months later, in Feb. 2009 at the OHL All-Star Game held in Windsor, the OHL unveiled the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy. It’s awarded to the OHL captain who best demonstrates passion and dedication to the game both on-and-off the ice. The inaugural winner was former Plymouth Whalers’ forward Chris Terry, while Spitfires’ captain Ryan Ellis won it in 2010-11. Barrie Colts’ captain Michael Webster won it in 2015-16.
Will Never Forget #18
On Saturday, fans packed the WFCU Centre to remember their captain. Prior to the game, the Spitfires showed a video montage of Renaud’s goals, community actions and highlighted his love for hockey. Fans were cheering and tearing up. They brought signs and there was a sense of community during the game. The Spitfires also named this year’s recipients of the Mickey Renaud Memorial Scholarship.
While nine years have gone by, the memories remain. The emotions remain.
Renaud was everything a Windsor Spitfire should be; hard-working, determined and well-rounded. He was the first one to lend a hand. No matter who you were, Renaud was there for you. While the players today may not have had the chance to interact with him, his presence will be forever felt in the arena and in the community.
When the Spitfires went to the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouski, an “18” flag was brought to the games. There was little doubt Renaud made his presence felt. Windsor hosts the 2017 Memorial Cup and it’s certain Renaud will be watching and cheering on his beloved team.
He was a great player. A great person. “Our Captain Forever.”
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.