With the COVID-19 pandemic turning life upside down, everything from family to work to social lives are a complete unknown. Sometimes you need that glimmer of normalcy to calm the waves a touch. Fortunately, the Windsor Spitfires and the CHL have been able to do that with key signings and an annual draft right around the corner.
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The world came to a screeching halt in mid-March and, to ensure everyone’s safety, sports were put on hold for the foreseeable future. However, while on-ice activities are shut down, Spitfires’ general manager (GM) Bill Bowler still has a job to do and he’s been busy with off-ice work.
What has the team been up to since April’s draft? Let’s take a look.
Youngsters Sign on Dotted Line
A year ago, the Spitfires were in the middle of organizational chaos with management restructuring and now-former GM Warren Rychel stepping down. The ugly mess led to 2019 first-round pick Wyatt Johnston waiting until mid-June to sign.
This year is a relative breath of fresh air. April’s first-round pick, centre Ryan Abraham, signed with the club just a couple of weeks after the draft.
He was excited to join the organization and Bowler said at the time that the future is very bright.
“… Ryan’s ability to create offence is what made us select him and his competitiveness and drive are going to be something we look forward to seeing,” Bowler told the Spitfires in a press release.
A month later, at the end of May, Bowler was able to ink two more draft picks to contracts — defenceman Nicholas De Angelis (second-round pick) and goaltender Kyle Downey (second-round pick).
With the Spitfires losing multiple defencemen to graduation or departure, the 6-foot, 180-pound De Angelis has a chance to step in and contribute right away. The team loves his on-ice talent, but also raves about his leadership and off-ice approach. He captained the Mississauga Senators U16 in 2019-20 and that experience will go a long way in the OHL.
Downey is another who will get a long look by the team. Veteran goaltender Kari Piiroinen, 18, left the Spitfires in late March to return to Finland where he signed with Tappara. This left rookie Xavier Medina, 18, as the club’s starter and now Downey has a chance to earn the backup spot.
Getting these three signed is a step in the right direction and a much-needed break from the pandemic chaos.
CHL Import Draft Scheduled
In any normal summer, the NHL Draft would happen in late June, followed by the CHL Import Draft on the following Wednesday. That’s not quite the case this year, though.
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While the NHL Draft is up in the air, as is pretty much everything NHL-related, the CHL has decided to continue on as normal with their 2020 Import Draft. It has been scheduled for Tuesday, June 30 at 11 a.m. EST.
The draft rotates between the three leagues — OHL, QMJHL, and WHL. The Spitfires will have picks 40 and 100 and are expected to use both. Soon after Piiroinen (first round 2018) left for Finland, defenceman Ruben Rafkin (first round 2019) followed suit. He signed back home with TPS Turku.
Teams are allowed to have two imports and, with most clubs having at least one already, having two selections is uncommon. Since 2000, the Spitfires have selected twice just eight times (last time was 2017).
In any normal summer, bringing over productive talent can be a challenge. Add in the pandemic and Bowler’s job just got tougher. However, with open roster spots both upfront and on defence, he’s not limited to what area he can go after. That’s a bit of a positive.
Midway through the offseason, the Spitfires have done what’s needed to get ready for 2020-21. The three signings take some pressure off and the Import Draft gives us something concrete to look forward to. With everything going on, we’ll take it!
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.