It’s finally here. Hockey is back. The Windsor Spitfires check into the WFCU Centre on Tuesday as their 2019-20 Training Camp gets underway and there is no shortage of intrigue.
After being swept by the top-seeded London Knights during the first round of the 2018-19 OHL playoffs, the Spitfires pulled off a roller-coaster offseason involving management concerns and key signings.
It has resulted in some interesting stories that are bound to take shape during this week’s camp. Let’s take a look at three of those stories.
1. The Parekh Boys’ Watch
It’s impossible to ignore this situation.
Just after the Spitfires were eliminated from the playoffs, the team got involved in a potential sale with Dr. Azim Parekh of Markham. The news was unexpected and raised red flags when Parekh’s two sons — Isa and Ayden — were drafted by the Spitfires in the 2019 Priority Selection and the 2019 Under-18 Draft, respectively. After the story made national headlines, the sale was cancelled and the Spitfires’ ownership group restructured instead.
While Azim is out of the picture, Isa and Ayden are still expected to be at camp. Isa, 16, is a 5-foot-10, 134-pound defenceman who was drafted in the fifth round, despite not being rated for the draft. Aydin, 17, is a 5-foot-9, 190-pound defenceman with some offensive abilities.
There will be nearly two-dozen drafted and free-agent hopefuls in camp; however, you can’t help but watch the Parekh boys. This situation wasn’t on them. They’re two kids who just wanted to play hockey.
The Spitfires return most of their defensive group so it was unlikely one of the brothers makes the roster even if Azim bought the team. With him out of the picture, though, it’s business-as-usual. They will come in, play the scrimmages, learn the ways of the OHL, and head to their respective clubs for this season.
Hopefully, both Isa and Aydin will have good camps and keep enjoying the game they love.
2. Battle for the Blue Paint
The future begins now. Who’s ready?
In 2017-18, Michael DiPietro was Spitfires’ guy in net, putting up franchise numbers. In April 2018, the Spitfires drafted goaltender Xavier Medina, hoping he would replace DiPietro once the star goaltender moved on.
Just two months later, then-General Manager Warren Rychel drafted Finnish goaltender Kari Piiroinen in the CHL Import Draft. Piiroinen, 17, was a year older than Medina. With Piiroinen on board, Medina went stateside and dressed for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, instead. When DiPietro was dealt
It was a rocky season for the Finn — 27 games, 4.23 goals against average (GAA), and a .875 save percentage (SV%) — but there were flashes of serious talent. Let’s be realistic, too. Taking over for a world-class goaltender isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a 17-year-old who’s new to everything around him.
Medina grew with Oakland. He had a 1.51 GAA in 27 games for the Grizzlies, developing all aspects of his game.
Fast forward to this summer — Incze has moved on to play for Brantford Jr A and Medina has signed with the Spitfires. It sets up Medina and Piiroinen as the present and the future, and it’s also the first camp since 2015 where DiPietro won’t be on the ice.
Medina is confident, though. He’ll provide that extra push to get Piiroinen over the top. While Piiroinen is likely the starter, having a young, eager backup is never a bad option for a club.
The Spitfires got into a carousel of goaltenders from 2010 until they drafted DiPietro in 2015. Now, with Piiroinen and Medina in place, the team hopes goaltender longevity becomes the new trend.
3. The Bill Bowler Era
When Rychel stepped down as GM of the Spitfires, it wasn’t an easy time for anyone in the organization. He had been with the team since 2006 and was the architect of three Memorial Cups.
Replacing him was Spitfires’ Vice President of Hockey Operations Bill Bowler, who was also the team’s all-time leading scorer. Bowler knows this franchise in-and-out and had been with Rychel for the last three seasons.
Last week, Bowler made his first splash, sending forward Jordan Frasca to the Kingston Frontenacs for a pick. Then, on Monday, Bowler really made waves, dealing 18-year-old defenceman Nathan Staios to the Hamilton Bulldogs for three second-round picks and two conditional picks.
Staios (son of Bulldogs’ GM Steve Staios) is from Hamilton and he had requested a deal closer to home for personal reasons.
Despite the deals, Bowler’s style is unknown. Fans knew what they were getting with Rychel — toughness, offence, and leadership. Since 2017 alone, he brought in sniper Will Cuylle and tough veterans Curtis Douglas and Sean Allen.
Bowler has the majority of his roster returning, so leaving his mark may take time. Will he be similar to Rychel or take a completely opposite path? What about somewhere in the middle?
We’ll certainly get an idea this week during camp. Bowler will be studying everything and it’s a story worth watching.
Camp gets underway on Tuesday with off-ice activities. The public will get their first glimpse when the players hit the ice Wednesday for scrimmages. The Blue-White Game is Thursday at 5:30 p.m. All on-ice activities are free and open to the public.