The memories are still fresh and vivid. It’s hard to believe it’s been 11-years since Mickey Renaud laced up his skates and hit the ice at Windsor Arena. On Monday afternoon, the Windsor Spitfires paid tribute to their former captain, bringing back great memories of this beloved person.
When you went to a game in the old arena, there were a few guarantees. The game was going to be intense, the fans were packed in and the Renaud, 19, would be smiling on the Spitfires’ bench as he pumped up his teammates with full support. He was the player, and person, that everyone looked up to.
Little did anyone know what was about to happen. A cold February 2008 morning turned the city upside down in an unthinkable fashion. It was tragic and left a permanent hole in Windsor-and-Essex County.
The Day Windsor Will Never Forget
Family Day in Windsor, Feb. 18, 2008, meant the Spitfires and their fans took to the ice at Windsor Arena to sign autographs and have some fun.
Renaud, a Calgary Flames’ prospect, was at home in Tecumseh with teammates as they got ready for the rink. That’s where it all changed. Renaud suddenly collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital. Despite all efforts to save him, Renaud was pronounced dead.
The news quickly hit the arena as players and fans were left stunned. The team got together to figure out what was happening.
“I thought he was joking, I honestly did,” Webster said.
“I didn’t believe it. So I had to get on the phone and call (Flames general manager) Darryl Sutter, who was … in Florida with the general managers meetings. When I told him, he was absolutely shocked…”
Renaud died from an undetected heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. This causes the heart walls to thicken, leading to restricted blood flow and possible cardiac arrest.
The team took 10 days off to mourn before returning to the ice to face the Belleville Bulls.
As fans packed the arena for warmups, the Spitfires and Bulls wore “Renaud 18” jerseys. It was a true show of respect. Just before puck drop, the Spitfires placed their jerseys on a table at center ice during an emotional ceremony.
Following the game, the Spitfires saluted the crowd, thanking them for their support while the Bulls stayed on the ice as the teams did an impromptu handshake. The score was irrelevant; this was about humanity.
Renaud’s Legacy Lives On
Renaud will forever be a Spitfire and the team has ensured that.
When the Spitfires came to the WFCU Centre in 2009, they painted an “18” on the ice behind each net, have Renaud’s “18” jersey in the rafters and have a display in the concourse that shows Renaud’s locker stall as it was on that horrible day.
Off the ice, numerous events were set up.
In 2009, the Spitfires and the OHL teamed up to create the Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy. It’s presented annually to the OHL team captain who best shows leadership on-and-off the ice. Former Plymouth Whaler Chris Terry was the inaugural winner while Justin Lemcke of the Hamilton Bulldogs won it in 2017-18.
The Spitfires then created the “Mickey’s Run”, which took place from 2013-16 at the WFCU Centre. People were encouraged to come out and walk or run either five or 10 kilometers. Proceeds went to the Windsor Spitfires’ Foundation.
The Spitfires also set up the Sutherland Global Mickey Renaud Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded annually to two local student-athletes who demonstrate dedication, hard work and leadership both on-and-off the field.
On the ice, the Spitfires continue to play each season on Feb. 18, regardless of the day of the week which it falls on.
Last season, the Spitfires hosted the Flint Firebirds and channeled their emotion to take an easy 7-0 win. What did this season bring?
This season, the game fell on Monday, Family Day, as the Spitfires faced the Owen Sound Attack. It was a rematch from their game two weeks ago that saw the Attack win in overtime.
Family Day Triumph
Prior to the game, the Spitfires showed an emotional tribute video and presented the annual scholarships to two local student-athletes in front of a crowd of 5,081.
When the game started, Spitfires’ goaltender Colton Incze and Attack goaltender Mack Guzda put on a clinic.
Despite the Spitfires outshooting the Attack 21-15 after 40 minutes, the teams remained scoreless. The draw didn’t last much longer, though. Spitfires’ veteran Chris Playfair opened the scoring less than a minute into the third period.
Sergey Popov wasn’t letting his team get shutout, though. While Incze stood on his head at times, including a brilliant stacked-pad save on an odd-man rush, he couldn’t stop them all. Popov tied the game eight minutes into the third period, forcing a tight finish.
With less than two minutes to go, though, the Spitfires found their answer. Defenceman Nathan Staios prevented overtime after he fired home his sixth of the season. The Attack pulled Guzda but couldn’t solve Incze again and the Spitfires took the 2-1 win.
After the game, Incze told the Windsor Star that the video was emotional and it gave them a boost.
“You can’t take anything for granted, not even the game or life. It’s so precious and it gave us an extra gear in the third period. It felt good to win that one for (Renaud).” (from ‘Spitfires find plenty of motivation in win over Attack’, The Windsor Star – 2/18/19)
While the win was big, as it cushions the Spitfires’ lead to five points up on the ninth-seeded Erie Otters, the afternoon had far more importance than just the two points. It was a chance to remember not only a quality player but an even better person.
Spitfire Greats Remember Renaud
While current players learn what Renaud meant to the Spitfires, former Spitfires remember Renaud fondly. His hard work, kindness and overall love of life reached a great distance.
“Every day he’d find a way to show up late with a bagel and a coffee and started asking the teacher at one point ‘Do you want me to bring you something too?’” Weber said.
“Those things, he was just a really sly guy, so calm and cool.”
For Webster, players who put that extra mile in to accomplish the little things will always stand out. That’s what Renaud did and it’s what helped make him so great.
“You’re always looking at how can you contribute,” Webster told YourTV.
“When you have a second-effort mentality that you’re willing to do all of the little things – block shots and put on the work boots – those are the things that epitomized what Mickey Renaud was about.”
Renaud loved his community and they loved him right back. His legacy will continue to live on throughout the arena and community as fans and players learn what a truly great human being he was. From the past to the present and into the future, Renaud will live on as the Spitfires’ “captain forever.”