On a nice summer day, yes, we have finally had one of those in central Connecticut—I was sitting by the pool reading the magazine every hockey fan should have a subscription to, The Hockey News, and I saw an interesting blurb that needs to be told in more detail.
I credit The Hockey News, The Windsor Star, and ESPN.com Page Two writer Gare Joyce for quotes and inspiration about this heartwarming story.
The Windsor Spitfires won this year’s CHL Memorial Cup, the first in their 34-year run in the OHL, and when captain and defenseman Harry Young lifted the big trophy over his head (yes, this time it did not break), he lifted it with the help of the spirit of Mickey Renaud.
Renaud, a fifth round pick of the Calgary Flames, was a “hard to miss 6-foot-2, 210 lbs, blond-haired, smiling, outgoing, always saying hello first” player and that personality made him a perfect fit as captain of the Windsor Spitfires.
A teammate they called “mousey” was nothing of the sorts both on and off the ice. Then on February 16, a day that started like any other, Renaud invited some of his teammates over for breakfast and suddenly collapsed at his parent’s kitchen table. Later that day, he was pronounced dead at the tender age of 19.
It was then diagnosed that Renaud died of a genetic heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The season took an unexpected turn for a bunch of teenagers who had dreamt of making it to the big leagues and who youthfully thought that they were indestructible on and off of the ice.
Their leader, their rock, was suddenly gone, and it was devastating. The team was forced to move on because that is what Mickey would have wanted. But he was never forgotten, and the team took inspiration from their late captain.
The wins kept piling up for the Spitfires, including a division crown and run to the OHL championship, one they celebrated with a Renaud jersey for the team picture with the trophy.
As written in the The Windsor Star about the Memorial Cup, the tournament to crown the champion of the CHL, “The club also had new undershirts made for the tournament with Renaud's No. 18 on the sleeves and 'Whatever it Takes' written on the back.”
Whatever it takes, a motto fit for a team that has already been through so much together, for a team that has seen the darkness and wants to move towards the light of a better day.
They started 0-2 in this round robin tournament; no team has ever won the Memorial Cup starting the series with two loses. Both were tough one goal losses, the first coming in OT. Then came the “whatever it takes” nothing to lose attitude for the team from Windsor. They went on to turn their tournament around winning the next two games, setting up a big matchup with the QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs. After taking an early 2-0 lead in the first, they gave up two goals in the second, sending the nail biter to OT. While in overtime, Adam Henrique won the Spitfires' third straight game.
Then came what this team had been fighting for, a chance at the Championship, a chance to win one for their leader with a matchup vs. WHL champion Kelowna Rockets.
The game’s outcome was never in doubt in a 4-1 win, and once again during the celebration, Renaud’s jersey found its way on the ice for the team picture. As tournament MVP Taylor Hall summed it up, "Maybe Mickey was watching over us and wanted to teach us a lesson."
The lesson learned, was in order to win a championship in sports, a team needs heart, determination, and resilience. The Windsor Spitfires embodied all these qualities, especially the resilience needed to bounce back from tragedy.
This was a team that only three-months prior, lost so much, and had so much to overcome, but kept at what was important to their leader and did “whatever it takes” to honor the legacy of their captain, Mickey Renaud.