Windsor Spitfires’ Notebook: Import Signings, Bench Move, OHL Dates

The offseason has been anything but normal around the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). With COVID-19 still hanging on, the league is paused and activity is down league-wide. However, all was not silent this week as the Windsor Spitfires made a pair of changes and the league made an announcement about 2020-21.

A year ago, Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler was preparing for the 2019-20 home opener and his first season in charge. Now, he’s waiting patiently, making some organizational moves to prepare for the next step towards 2020-21. Those changes include an addition to the defence, starting the search for a new associate coach, and preparing his team for late-fall training camp.

Let’s take a look at everything that happened this week.

Sobolev Commits to Spitfires

One more piece has been added to the puzzle. On Tuesday afternoon, the Spitfires announced that their 2020 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft pick, defenceman Daniil Sobolev, 17, officially signed with the club.

Chosen 40th overall in the draft, the 6-foot, 198-pound St. Petersburg, Russia-native brings a strong two-way, physical game. In 2019-20, he played 48 games for MHK Spartak Moskova (MHL) with 6 points and 47 penalty minutes.

The team has had its eye on him after the Four Nations Cup in Plymouth, MI two years ago. Sobolev is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft and the team feels he’ll be a legitimate prospect.

“We were excited when we drafted Daniil and now are ecstatic to announce his signing,” Bowler said in a statement.

“He will be an immediate fan favourite with his two-way play. He is an NHL prospect and with that type of ability, is an addition that bolsters our roster immediately.”

Sobolev added that he’s thrilled to sign and is looking forward to making an impact this season. The Spitfires drafted Sobolev after their 2019-20 imports — defenceman Ruben Rafkin and goaltender Kari Piiroinen, both out of Finland — went home to play for TPS Turku and Tuto Hockey (Turku), respectively. The club retained Rafkin’s rights in case he comes back to the OHL down the road.

Kari Piiroinen Ruben Rafkin Windsor Spitfires
Former Windsor Spitfires’ Ruben Rafkin and Kari Piiroinen in 2019-20. (Dave Jewell/THW)

With multiple openings on defence, Sobolev is expected to step right in and get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do.

Weber Moves to AHL

While the club made an addition on the ice this week, they’ve also started the search for some help behind the bench. On Thursday morning, the team announced that associate coach Mike Weber has been hired as an assistant coach of the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rochester Americans.

Mike Weber, Buffalo Sabres
Mike Weber during his time with the Buffalo Sabres. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Weber played for the Spitfires from 2004-07, becoming one of their top defencemen. Following the OHL, his pro career took him to the Buffalo Sabres and the Washington Capitals from 2007-16. He retired in 2018 following an injury and joined the Spitfires’ bench shortly after. He was a fan favourite, both on the ice and behind the bench.

“I feel extremely lucky to have come back to Windsor to start my coaching career,” Weber said in a release, thanking the Spitfires (including former general manager Warren Rychel) and his family for everything they’ve done.

“Windsor is home and it gives me and my family great pride to have come full circle as a player and now a coach here.” Weber joins new Americans’ head coach Seth Appert, along with former Owen Sound Plater and long-time Buffalo Sabre Adam Mair, behind the bench.

The Spitfires now have just one associate coach in Jerrod Smith, along with head coach Trevor Letowski. There has been no word on who may replace Weber before the season begins.

OHL Announces 2020-21 Dates

Finally, on Thursday afternoon, the OHL announced important dates for 2020-21, including training camp dates, the trade deadline, and 2021 OHL Priority Selection.

Windsor Spitfires Team White 2018
Windsor Spitfires’ 2018 Training Camp. (Dave Jewell/THW)

In early August, the league set a target of Tues., Dec. 1 as the opening night for the regular season. In addition to that, here are other important dates:

  • 2020-21 Training Camps – Sun., Nov. 15
  • Exhibition Games – The weekends of Nov. 20-22 and 27-29
  • Regular Season Opening Night – Tues., Dec. 1
  • Trade Deadline – Wed., Feb. 10, 2021
  • End of Regular Season – Thurs., April 29, 2021
  • 2021 OHL Priority Selection – Sat., May 8, 2021
  • 2021 OHL Playoffs – May 2 – June 14, 2021
  • Kia Memorial Cup – June 17-27, 2021 – either in Sault Ste. Marie, ON or Oshawa, ON
2017 Memorial Cup Erie Otters Windsor Spitfires
Former Windsor Spitfires’ general manager Warren Rychel celebrates winning the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup on home ice. (Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

Knowing the training camp dates gives teams an opportunity to plan. It’s not something they’ll take for granted.

“It’s great news that we’re getting more information that allows us to do some planning,” Bowler told the Windsor Star. “Now that we have training camp guidelines, you can start to prepare for the season.” (from ‘Spitfires pleased as OHL announces more plans for its return to play’, Windsor Star – 9/17/20)

While the league announced the dates, there are areas to work out, including fans in attendance and where the three US teams (Erie Otters, Saginaw Spirit, and Flint Firebirds) will play if the border remains closed. However, the league has time to figure those out.

The pandemic has been hard and you realize how much you take for granted. After an eight-month OHL layoff, that distant light is a breath of fresh air. If everyone sticks together, we could be seeing hockey before the end of the maze they call “2020.” What a story for the grandkids!