There’s a new era underway at the WFCU Centre. After a 19-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Windsor Spitfires are adjusting to a new roster, new coaches, and now a new leadership group. On Thursday afternoon, the club announced its new captain, along with an assortment of veterans and youngsters who will lead this group into the new era.
Nothing has been easy for the Spitfires or the Ontario Hockey League over the last 19 months. The league saw numerous possibilities to re-start in 2020-21, but rising COVID case totals prevented anything from getting started. That meant the team not only lost their 1999-born players to graduation but their 2000-born players as well. Their entire leadership group from 2019-20 (Luke Boka, Cole Purboo, Chris Playfair, and Connor Corcoran) is gone. Over the summer, we suggested that they should pick someone younger for the new leadership group so the team could build around the youth over the long haul. It looks like the club had the same idea.
Who’s in the new leadership group? Let’s break it all down.
Call Him Captain Cuylle
From 2018-20, veteran Spitfires’ forward Luke Boka proudly wore the “C,” showing heart and dedication to everything in the organization. Naming his replacement wasn’t going to be easy, but it had to happen eventually.
The club made the decision on Thursday — New York Rangers’ prospect forward Will Cuylle, 19, will lead the Spitfires into the post-pandemic era.
The Spitfires acquired the 6-foot-4, 210-pound winger prior to 2018-19 in a deal with the Peterborough Petes. The third overall pick in the 2018 OHL Draft, Cuylle refused to report to the Petes, so then-general manager Warren Rychel sent a handful of picks the other way.
While Cuylle’s production was worth it in his rookie year, as he scored 26 goals in 63 games, though he plateaued a bit in 2019-20 with just 22 goals and 42 points in 62 games. It wasn’t the season that anyone expected. However, his size, strength, and NHL-caliber shot impressed the Rangers enough to take him in the second round in 2020.
Cuylle was returned to the Spitfires just prior to the home opener after an impressive showing at the Rangers’ training camp. This will likely be his final season in the OHL, so he’s determined to show critics what he’s truly capable of. Getting the “C” will only help that process.
“It is an honour to be named the captain of such a historic franchise,” Cuylle said in a statement. “I am excited for the upcoming season.”
Spitfires head coach Marc Savard added that Cuylle has been there for two seasons and was an obvious choice.
Cuylle now joins an elite list of talents that wore the Spitfires’ “C,” including Boka, Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ryan Ellis, Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith, and, of course, Tecumseh-native Mickey Renaud.
Spitfires Name Five Alternates
Throughout the preseason, the Spitfires had several players wear the alternate captain’s “A” at various times. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that several players got the chance to show their mettle.
Full-Time Alternate: Forward Wyatt Johnston
Drafted sixth overall by the Spitfires in 2019, Johnston has taken his game to a new level ever since his appearance at the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The now-18-year-old Toronto-native scored 30 points in 53 games in 2019-20 and was a part of Team Canada at the World Under-18s in Dallas last spring. He made a statement at the event, and the Dallas Stars took notice, taking him in the first round in July.
Now, Johnston comes to the Spitfires as a 200-foot winger who’s responsible in his own end but can light it up offensively. The club has high expectations for him, and he’s ready to help lead the team. While he’s young, he’s one of the players that we predicted could have a part in this group. If he’s able to take his game to the next level, you could see him wearing the “C” in 2022-23.
Home Alternates: Pasquale Zito and Grayson Ladd
Also wearing the “A” at home will be Detroit Red Wings prospect forward Pasquale Zito and 20-year-old defenceman Grayson Ladd.
Zito, 18, has shown incredible heart and soul during his time with the Spitfires. He was a second-round pick in 2019 and had 13 points in 46 games in 2019-20 in limited action. Whether the team needs a big goal or protection, he’s up for the challenge. While he’s just 6-foot-1, 176-pounds, his work ethic and potential are sky-high.
He’s another one that we thought could get an “A” this season; everything about his game just seems to fit the mould of what you’d want in a Spitfires leader.
Ladd, 20, is the silent, steady leader on the Spitfires’ blueline. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound Kent Bridge, ON-native doesn’t play a flashy style but will quietly put up 20 points while playing sound defensively. In his final OHL season, he’ll be a strong mentor and help the younger defencemen grow as they head into the future.
Road Alternates: Louka Henault and Daniel D’Amico
Rounding out the leadership group are two 20-year-olds who have been with the Spitfires since day one — defenceman Louka Henault and forward Daniel D’Amico.
D’Amico, 20, was the Spitfires’ sixth-round pick in 2017. The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Caledon-native is a waterbug on the ice as he scored 50 points in 2019-20 and can throw his weight around without issue. The oldest player on the team, he leads both on the ice and in the room.
Joining D’Amico is the 20-year-old Henault. He was the club’s fifth-round pick in 2017 and comes back to the club for a final season after a try-out with the Anaheim Ducks and their AHL affiliate, the San Diego Gulls. In 2019-20, he had 38 assists in 62 games, and that will be sorely needed after the Spitfires lost numerous offensive blue line threats.
New Era, New Leaders
The Spitfires have often put long-time veterans onto their leadership teams but, with the pandemic changing just about everything on this club, change was necessary.
We said that the youth needed a chance to show what they can do, not only for this season but the future. By giving younger players an “A,” it shows confidence in them and allows the team to build that group over multiple seasons. The Spitfires did just that, and they hit the mark perfectly.
Cuylle should blossom as the captain, bringing his game (on and off the ice) to a new level. His alternates are an ideal combination of present and future. It gives Savard plenty to work with, and it should be a treat for the fans for seasons to come.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.