Plenty of work ahead, but three-peat not out of the question for Spits


In this file photo, Harry Yound and Ryan Ellis (right) carry the Memorial Cup during the Spitfires victory parade on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor.

In this file photo, Harry Yound and Ryan Ellis (right) carry the Memorial Cup during the Spitfires victory parade on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor.

Photograph by: Tyler BrownBridge, The Windsor Star

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WINDSOR, Ont. — Two days removed from a second straight Memorial Cup title, as he pored over documents in his office Tuesday afternoon, the frustration began to boil up inside Windsor Spitfires general manager and co-owner Warren Rychel.

A three-peat?

Sure, it’s on his mind.

Who wouldn’t be consumed by the thought of the possibility to make Canadian Hockey League history?

No team has ever won three consecutive Memorial Cups.

The scenario keeps playing out in Rychel’s mind: A chance to make hockey history, going for three titles . . . and doing it on home ice.

It came so close to being real, and the reality that it won’t happen is gnawing away at him.

“It’s hitting home more now that we didn’t get the Memorial Cup,” said Rychel, whose club lost the 2011 hosting bid to the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.

“It would have been great to try to make history and defend it front of our home fans, so that’s kind of bugging me a little bit.”

If it’s bugging him, imagine the second-guessing that must be going on at CHL headquarters.

They went for the money, and now they know they passed up the chance to stage an epic event. The Spitfires shooting for three in front of their rabid fan base at the WFCU Centre would have been a national story.

CHL commissioner Dave Branch and company will have much to ponder over the summer.

So does Rychel.

“There’s a couple of ways we can go here,” said Rychel, who must determine the course of this team for the immediate future.

Do they look to load up and go for another Cup, or should they move assets and rebuild with a look to the future?

Had they been granted the 2011 Memorial Cup, the point would be moot.

“We’d be going all out,” Rychel said.

Instead, the Spitfires find themselves in a holding pattern where the 2010-11 Ontario Hockey League season is concerned.

Tuesday was team photo day for the Spitfires. For one final time, the group that won the title in Brandon, Man., assembled, donned the gear and posed as one.

Rychel, the architect of the team, could hang a print of that photo in his office and start X-ing out the losses.

Start with overagers Harry Young, Scott Timmins and Dale Mitchell, who are automatically gone from the picture, having used up their junior eligibility.

“I don’t expect to get any of our (key) 1990s back,” Rychel said, referring to defenceman Mark Cundari and forwards Adam Henrique, Eric Wellwood, and Greg Nemisz.

“They’ve accomplished everything and they’ve signed (NHL contracts), but funnier things have happened.”

Funny, indeed. Last fall, the Spitfires never thought they’d see Mitchell, Timmins or Young in a Spitfires uniform again. All three of them were NHL draftees, but the entire trio found their way back to Windsor.

Whether lightning of that nature could strike again is anyone’s guess at this point.

“It depends on contracts and depth,” Rychel. “What (NHL) teams have in terms of a glut of players in the American League.

“If there’s too many guys, they might come back.”

Regardless, mark that possibility down as a longshot at best at this point.

There’s another marquee Spitfire whose days in Windsor are done — left-winger and two-time Memorial Cup MVP Taylor Hall.

He’ll go in the top two picks of the NHL entry draft and will depart from junior hockey forever.

“I think Taylor is gone for sure,” Rychel said. “I think everyone in the world agrees with me.”

Minus Hall, who shared the OHL scoring crown with Plymouth’s Tyler Seguin, four of their top five scorers and five of their six 30-goal snipers, the team that Windsor puts on the ice next season could assume an entirely different personality, one that looks to win 2-1 and 3-2 games.

“(Spitfires coach and co-owner) Bob (Boughner) and I, we were talking about exactly that (Monday) night,” Rychel said.

Windsor will build from the goal out, where it will have three sensational building blocks in place in returnees Philipp Grubauer and Troy Passingham and the incoming Jack Campbell.

Both Campbell (USA, A-pool) and Grubauer (Germany, B-pool) backstopped their homelands to world junior titles this season. Campbell later added his second straight world under-18 crown, while Grubauer was at his best in the OHL final and Memorial Cup.

“We’re set in goal with three great goalies,” Rychel said. “Phil Grubauer is a Memorial Cup champion.

“Obviously, something’s got to break there. I don’t know how long that will take.”

The anticipated odd-man out is Passingham, who’d be an overeager and is likely to be moved to add some scoring touch to the team.

“We’d have a great D with two of the best goalies in the world back there,” Rychel said.

Expect Campbell to evolve into Windsor’s go-to goaltender.

“In my opinion, the best goalie not in the NHL is coming in,” Rychel said of Campbell. “I think he’s going to go in the top 10 in the NHL draft.”

In front of them could be the deepest top-four group of blue-liners in the OHL, but that’s another element currently in flux.

Ryan Ellis should be expected back. He’s a 2009 first-round pick of the Nashville Predators, and they aren’t known for rushing players into the show. Cam Fowler is rated fifth overall among North American skaters for the 2010 draft by NHL Central Scouting, but after just one season of junior hockey, it isn’t inconceivable that another year of seasoning would be in order for him.

“A lot depends on Cam and Ryan Ellis and their status,” Rychel admitted. “We’ll kind of wait on hold and see.”

The same is suddenly true for Marc Cantin, whom the club had pencilled in as an overeager for next season.

“We always thought Marc Cantin would for sure be back for an overage year,” Rychel said. “Bob saw him perhaps as our captain next year.

“But now he’s played so well, he might get snatched up in the mid-rounds of the draft and he might be right in the American League.”

In a perfect world, Windsor could have Ellis, Fowler, Cantin and second-year player Craig Duinick as its first two defence pairings.

“That’s an unbelievable defence,” Rychel said. “It would be so exciting if all those guys came back.”

The forward unit is where Windsor faces its largest area of concern.

“We’ve got a good group coming back,” Rychel said, pointing to 39-goal scorer Justin Shugg and Zack Kassian, who produced 12 goals in 38 games.

“Kuhnhackl’s coming, too,” Rychel said, pointing to 2009 import draft selection Tom Kuhnhackl, son of German hockey legend Erich Kuhnhackl.

Beyond that trio, things thin out rapidly. Right-winger Kenny Ryan and fourth-liner Derek Lanoue appear the only other certainties to return. James Woodcroft, Adam Wallace and Stephen Johnston could figure as overagers, but at this juncture, that seems unlikely.

Rychel was busy Tuesday, working the phones and his texting skills, talking to agents, seeking to clarify the status of other potential 2010-11 Spitfires such as defenceman Stephan Johns, right-winger Austin Czarnik and right-winger Chris Crane.

Czarnik, a 16-goal scorer for the U.S. under-18 squad, is close to agreeing to a deal with Windsor, while the rugged 6-1,193-pound Crane, who has a scholarship offer from Ohio State, is waiting to see where he lands in the NHL draft before committing for next season.

Johns, another U.S. under-18 player, is the one of the three that Windsor seems the least certain about landing at this point.

Regardless of their direction, the Spitfires are certain that youth will be served.

“One thing I want to do is to get three 1994s in the lineup,” Rychel said. “That’s important in rebuilding and we’ve always done that as a team, get the kids in right away.

“Craig Duinick is a perfect example of why we want to get those kids in right away and then the next year, they take off.”

While they can’t project the future, the Spitfires are willing to make one guarantee for next season — they will ice a solid team.

“There’s a lot of things we have to wait and hold on here, but I don’t think we’ll sell the farm totally,” Rychel said. “For our business case, we want to make sure we make the playoffs. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to picking second overall again, unless we decide we want to.

“It’s going to be interesting. I don’t think it will be a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t think we’ll be sellers over the summer.

“There’s no hurry on that, No. 1. We’ll see who’s back in the lineup. It’s a wait-and-see process. We’re in good shape regardless. The franchise, the hockey department, is in good shape either way.”

Deciding whether to go for a third straight Memorial Cup is a decision faced by just seven other teams in junior hockey history.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Rychel said. “There’s other teams in our conference that figure to be good — Kitchener and Guelph are a couple, and London’s always there.

“We’ll see how it goes. We don’t really have to make a decision. We’ll see where we are at the end of November. It all hinges on guys coming back.

“I think we’ll have a competitive team either way. And if all those guys I mentioned come back, then maybe you have to find a way and try to do this thing.”

Yes, much has to fall into place — most of which will remain uncertain even into the start of the season — but maybe, just maybe, a three-peat isn’t out of the question.

Windsor Star

In this file photo, Harry Yound and Ryan Ellis (right) carry the Memorial Cup during the Spitfires victory parade on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor.

In this file photo, Harry Yound and Ryan Ellis (right) carry the Memorial Cup during the Spitfires victory parade on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor.

Photograph by: Tyler BrownBridge, The Windsor Star

In this file photo, Harry Yound and Ryan Ellis (right) carry the Memorial Cup during the Spitfires victory parade on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor.
Greg Nemisz and Taylor Hall (right) sign autographs for fans during the Spitfires victory parade on Ouellette Avenue in Windsor on Monday, May 24, 2010.
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