WINDSOR, Ont. — They gathered to pull their Windsor Spitfires’ uniforms on one more time for a team picture Tuesday at the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre.
For many of the two-time Memorial Cup champions, it’ll be the last time.
“I was actually thinking this probably is one of the last times on that ice surface,” said Memorial Cup MVP Taylor Hall, who is most likely destined to be skating in the National Hockey League next season.
“Windsor was a big part of my career. I really developed as a player and as person. The memories will last forever. I’m never going to forget playing in this place.”
There were hugs, smiles and a few hard swallows.
All the winning kept postponing this date, but now there was nothing left to win, nothing left for one of the greatest teams in Canadian Hockey League history to say but goodbye and good luck.
“It was pretty tough being with these guys for so long,” Hall said. “You build so many friendships. We were so tight and I think that showed on the ice in how we fought when we were down.
“These are lifelong friends and lifelong memories.”
For those in that first draft class four years ago (Greg Nemisz, Adam Henrique, Mark Cundari, Eric Wellwood, Adam Wallace), they arrived as boys to endure being cannon fodder their first season.
They won only 18 of 68 games in 2006-07.
Now, most leave as the crown princes of the CHL to join the men of professional hockey.
“I don’t really think it’s sunk in yet, that it’s the end,” Henrique said. “It’s definitely sad that so many are leaving and moving on. But it’s good that so many guys have developed and are going to the next level.
“That’s what we worked so hard for. It’ll be great getting to play against guys like Nemo (Greg Nemisz) and Wood (Eric Wellwood) and with Harry (Young).”
Henrique said the mood of the day was similar to that mix of emotions that comes with a high-school graduation.
The friends you matured with are scattering and going on to hopefully better things, but there’ll always have been that common bond of shared experiences.
“It’s pretty much the same feeling (as high-school graduation day),” Henrique said. “A lot of guys in that room are going to have great careers.
“It’s been something special we’ve had the last four years. We’re going to be able to talk about these last four years forever.”
It was an eclectic group of personalities.
The jokers, the yappers, the quiet serious ones, the kids from across the Atlantic to the kids from across the street.
“There’s definitely some characters, a lot of guys would say I’m a character,” Wallace said. “Everyone came together as a family. It wasn’t individual goals.
“Everyone was worried about team goals at the end of the day. I’ll remember just how much of a family this team was.”
This most gifted of groups was moulded together by a coach (Bob Boughner) and a general manager (Warren Rychel) known more for their will than their skill as NHL players.
Ironically, in the end it was that will as much as their enormous skill that fashioned a resume that stands with any in junior hockey.
It was that resiliency that kept being mentioned as the quality everyone would remember most.
“I think it was the guys in the locker-room with all those different personalities coming together to make us so resilient that we could come back (from a 3-0 series deficit) in that Kitchener series that I’ll remember,” Cam Fowler said.
“I’ll remember how we could do that and still play all those jokes in the locker-room and have those funny moments. Those are the things that make teams great and that’s what I’ll miss for sure.”
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