When you take over a role that one person had for 15 years, creating your own path can be a challenge. As Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler quietly crosses the one-year mark in the hot seat, his job has been full of patience and long-term vision. It’s a unique way to start his own era.
Let’s be honest – the last year has been nothing short of a whirlwind for the Spitfires. From management restructuring to the CHL Top-10 and now the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “normal” simply doesn’t apply. Taking over from former GM Warren Rychel, Bowler has been involved with everything, applying his knowledge as best he can.
Filling Rychel’s shoes will be far from easy but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
A Change of Pace from Rychel
From 2005 to 2019, Rychel was one of the most popular people in the organization. As soon as he bought the club, along with Bob Boughner and Peter Dobrich, he could be seen talking to fans, interacting with players, and being that social butterfly that the team hadn’t seen in years.
It was a welcome change from the previous ownership. You knew where he stood. Did the team need to make a move? He made it, often with gusto. If the Spitfires needed to bring in a promising young talent, he was open about doing everything he could to put ink to paper. That was just Rychel’s way.
Bowler, who’s the Spitfires’ all-time points leader (467 from 1991 to 1995), has always been the quieter guy. That doesn’t mean he lacks managerial experience, though.
In 2013, Bowler was named GM of the Spitfires’ Jr. B affiliate LaSalle Vipers, and then he added Vice President of Spitfires Hockey Operations to his title in 2015. He worked side-by-side with Rychel, soaking up everything he could while remaining behind-the-scenes.
When Rychel stepped down on July 11, 2019, Bowler continued his calm, quiet approach as the team’s GM.
He can be occasionally found walking around the rink, talking to players or families, but a Bowler sighting is rare and often quick. He enters a room, does his thing, then quietly leaves for his next venture.
While he has the knowledge and thirst to gain experience, his overall demeanour is a 180 from Rychel.
Bowler’s 2019-20 Resume
One of the biggest changes that fans saw in Bowler’s first year was his passive nature with trades. While Rychel was open and blunt about his trade options, Bowler has kept his cards closer to the chest.
He made two deals last August, sending forward Jordan Frasca and defenceman Nathan Staios to the Eastern Conference in separate trades.
After that, though, Bowler was nearly silent, save for a deal to bring in veteran Joseph Rupoli from the Kitchener Rangers. Surely that would change at the January trade deadline, right? Since 2005, the Spitfires had become known for pulling off the deadline deal.
Surprisingly, despite over-achieving and the Spitfires finding themselves in the CHL Top-10, Bowler continued his passiveness. He made no moves, either for depth or making a run, and kept the status quo. Meanwhile, their rivals, such as the Saginaw Spirit and Flint Firebirds, made big moves for a second-half run.
The result was a few losses that snowballed into the team falling from first in the conference to fifth, all while watching the Firebirds blow past them in the standings. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit just before the season ended and any chance of redemption came to a screeching halt.
All was not lost, though. Despite the pandemic, both the OHL Priority Selection and the CHL Import Draft were held online and multiple players have already signed.
With COVID-19 controlling the globe, getting the draftees signed is a small but optimistic step for the future.
Rychel set the bar for any future Spitfires’ GMs, for better or worse. He was active, candid, and pulled no punches. The result was three Memorial Cups, but also a lot of swings-and-misses come playoff time. It’s a big suit to fill.
Bowler shadowed Rychel for multiple seasons, learning the tricks of the OHL. The knowledge passed down cannot be ignored. While their personalities might be different, their approach to the position can certainly be similar over the long haul.
Once the pandemic is over, Bowler will have plenty of opportunity to finally make his mark on the roster. That can only benefit him and the team in the long-run.
It’s not going to be easy to replace Rychel but patience and long-term success will go a long way to helping Bowler create his own legacy in the GM’s chair.
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.