Webster And Kelly Give Spits Organization A Positive Facelift
In the Canadian hockey league, the most important asset that a team must first acquire is a positive reputation for developing young talent and maturing their skills both on and off the ice. If this asset is not met, the team will encounter many problems in acquiring their young draft picks and acquiring other players through trades and such. A team that has gone through this horrific ordeal? Why, the Windsor Spitfires practically define it.
The Spitfires have accomplished everything that any other team should not. This includes a vast array of different front office movements over the last 10 years resulting in numerous coaches and general managers. This results in a very unstable approach toward building a future in the league which is so important in the CHL. Also, a team that produces bad results year after year does not help a reputation. All future OHL’ers fear a few words come draft day, “The Windsor Spitfires select .” Take this past draft for example. Tim Gleason, a highly touted defenceman, previously stated that he would take a university approach or only play for the Plymouth Whalers if he was selected. The Spits took the risky road and selected him. Immediately after, he returned his jersey and hat through his agent back to the team and said he would not report. This is when the new era of the Windsor Spitfires organization takes place.
The new era involves a couple of key additions in the front office. Owner Steve Riolo, who has been put under high criticism after his constant manager hirings and firings finally named two top-quality, proven men in the Ontario Hockey League. He named Spitfires’ coaching legend Tom Webster as head coach. Webster left his post at Carolina Hurricanes’ assistant coach to join the Spits and to be near his family. Riolo also hired Mike Kelly to become the general manager. Kelly left the Calgary Flames scouting system in order to take a very difficult job in reshaping a very poor team. After these additions, the always critical fans of Windsor felt comfortable with their ‘new’ team.
The reshaping begins…
Their first order of business was the very important draft, the most important in Spitfires’ history. The Spits had 5 picks in the first 3 rounds. As mentioned before, they chose Gleason and he said he would not report. Gleason agreed to talk to Kelly and Webster about his options. That proved to be a very important discussion. 3 days later in the week, Gleason chose Windsor. This was a huge step in the progress of the team and a positive beginning in the Webster-Kelly era. The draft overall was a success and the Spitfires have seemed to fill all the missing holes that they needed to fill in the draft, and believe me, there was more holes than a golf course. Kelly and Webster continued to preach their strong dedication to the team and to developing all Spitfire players with discipline and a hard nosed effort. They said that they would not stand for any 1 man shows and slackers. The dedicated, hard working players will play.
Since the draft, the off-season has been far from slow for the Spits. They believe 60 or so players will take part in pre-season starting September 1st. They have also made a few player acquisitions. Ron Vogel, the reason the Spitfires didnt end up 0-68-0 last season, chose to play out his overage season in Texas. This move opens up the goaltending void for Mike Leighton, a highly touted goalkeeper. The next big question for the Spits is their overage selections in which will be a very important decision for them to contend with a relativly young team. Kelly has said he hopes for 6 rookies, 6 2nd year’s, 6 3rd year’s, and 3 overagers. The Spits have been busy lately on the phones for players as well. They have been given news that Sergei Fedorov’s brother Fedor has said he would join the Spits if he doesnt crack Tampa’s lineup, which should happen. And the latest out of the Spits camp is the acquisition of Shawn Mather who will definitly shine in the league. Mather was rated a 1st round pick for the 97 OHL draft but opted to take the scholarship route with Michigan State. The Spits took him in the 18th round barring a change in mind. The 19 year old Mather has opted out of the final 3 years of a scholarship that is estimated at over $100,000 to play for the Spits. Mike Kelly said jokingly that his “good looks’ were the difference in bringing Mather to the Spits.
The Windsor Spitfires are finally on the right path having brought in top quality coaches and players. It is looking more like they are building a contender each day and the fans are very comfortable with the product they are putting on the ice. As Mike Kelly says ” I think we have a reputation for taking care of kids and developing them.” Something which would have been laughed at coming out of the Spits organization a year ago. “I think that reputation can carry you sometimes.”
Mike Kelly’s first mistake has just been made. In the CHL, a reputation can carry you all the time.