The Windsor Spitfires faced off against the Flint Firebirds on Sunday afternoon, but this wasn’t your typical OHL game. Over 6,000 fans packed into the WFCU Centre in Windsor to not only watch hockey but to pay tribute to a former Spitfires’ captain.
The date Feb 18 is forever circled on calendars throughout Windsor and Essex County. Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of former Spitfires’ captain Mickey Renaud, who passed away suddenly in 2008.
The Day It All Changed
On Feb 17, 2008, the Spitfires had played a road game in Owen Sound. On the 18th, Renaud, who wore number 18, was at home with some teammates getting ready for a Family Day Skate at the Windsor Arena. It was scheduled to start at noon.
While getting ready, Renaud suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to Windsor Regional Hospital without vital signs. Resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead around the noon hour.
The autopsy showed an underlying heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It’s a condition where the heart walls thicken without a clear cause, which means the heart pumps less efficiently. This can result in shortness of breath, dizziness or chest pain. It’s also a comment factor in cardiac arrest in young athletes.
After his death, the Spitfires did several tributes to him at the WFCU Centre including naming a street after him outside, a memorial in the concourse and painting “18” behind each net. They also retired his number at the Windsor Arena and it now sits among the greats high above the WFCU Centre ice. The Mickey Renaud Game has also become a tradition, played every year on Feb 18.
Pre-Game Emotions Run High
On this afternoon, fans made their way up Mickey Renaud Drive outside the arena, put on their Spitfires’ gear and proudly held their “18” signs from their seat. As the lights dimmed and the players made their way out, emotions hit hard.
The Spitfires played a four-minute video on the video board as both teams stood at their blue-line and watched. Part of the video included a speech from the locker room where the coaches talked to the team about what Renaud meant to the club. One of the central messages was how dedicated Renaud was to his team and his community. You can watch that video here.
After the video, the teams were joined on-ice by Mickey’s parents, Mark and Jane Renaud, who presented the Sutherland Global Mickey Renaud Memorial Scholarships. The annual scholarships recognize one male and one female student-athlete who show determination, hard work and leadership both in the classroom and in the game. This year’s recipients were Suzanne Kelley and Matthew Brooks, who each received $1,000.
While Renaud had immense off-ice skills, he was also an incredible hockey player. He had 51-goals and 70-assists for 121-points in 192 OHL games. In 2007, the Calgary Flames liked what they saw in him and drafted him in the fifth-round, 143rd overall.
Prior to the game, the Spitfires ran a promotion where fans could purchase $17 tickets and $5 from each ticket went to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
Focus Finishes Off Firebirds
After the ceremony, the Spitfires channeled that emotion and took it to Firebirds’ starting goaltender Garrett Forrest. He gave up four-goals on just eight shots and was pulled 14-minutes into the game. Firebirds’ backup goaltender Luke Cavallin fared better, allowing just three-goals on 40 shots the rest of the way.
Unfortunately for him, Spitfires’ goaltender Michael DiPietro wasn’t going to allow much to get past him. He stopped all 20 shots faced to record his sixth shutout of the season. That gives him 14 shutouts for his career – a new Spitfires’ team record. The final score was 7-0 Windsor.
Renaud was all about team-first and that’s how this game went for the Spitfires. Six different players scored goals while 11 players had points overall.
The final buzzer sounded and the Spitfires went to center ice to salute their loyal fans. This has become a tradition for the club since the first game following Renaud’s passing.
On Feb 28, 2008, the Spitfires hosted the Belleville Bulls in their first game after the death. It was one of the most emotional games in team history. Following the game, the teams met at center ice for an impromptu handshake and the Spitfires saluted the crowd. Since that game, the team salutes the crowd following every home game.
After the game, Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski said this game meant a lot to them.
“A lot of emotion in the building, it felt like it was sold out,” Letowski told windsorspitfires.com. The announced attendance was 6,098, just shy of the 6,500 capacity.
“I thought the players bottled up nicely. We were excited to play the game … it’s an important night for the Windsor Spitfires. We wanted to make sure we showed well and we played hard. We honoured Mickey.”
Letowski added that it’s also a good sign for the club, as it doesn’t usually dominate teams. Flint was coming off of a 5-3 loss at home to the Saginaw Spirit on Saturday so they weren’t at their best.
“It’s a good sign for us, that we’re growing,” he said.
“We were hitting on all cylinders. I thought all of our guys were dangerous tonight; all four lines. It was a fun game to watch.”
Forever the Captain
It’s never easy saying goodbye to someone close to you, whether it’s the next day or 10-years later. Renaud was a fixture in the community and his presence is felt throughout the WFCU Centre. For fans that packed the arena, or watched from around the region, dry eyes were few-and-far-between.
While gaining a win in the standings is always helpful this time of year, gaining the win in the Mickey Renaud Game was that much better.
The Spitfires haven’t been the most offensive club this season so scoring six goals in the first period meant something special. There’s little doubt that Renaud was in the building and played a part in it.
That’s just what captains do and, for the Spitfires, Renaud is “Our Captain Forever.” Rest in Peace, Mickey “18.”