Tyler Nother with the Memorial Cup trophy at the Legion in Orangeville. (Courtesy Windsor Spitfires)
In a way, the celebration of the Memorial Cup was for more than just the players.
It was about the value of community, the comradery of friends and teammates both new and old, the support of family and giving back to hometowns.
That was the spirit of the championship tour organized by the champion Windsor Spitfires. Each member of the team was honoured with a day with the trophy. With a roster that featured 10 OMHA grads, many lucky cities and towns from across the province had the chance to spend some time with one of the sport’s most historic trophies.
It was important for the players to bring the trophy back to where they grew up. It’s what makes minor hockey special according to goalie Michael DiPietro.
“I made my friends that I still hang out with now playing Amherstburg minor hockey,” said DiPietro, who won the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the tournament’s Outstanding Goaltender and was also named an All-Star. “I make my friends through sports and my parents make their friends through sports as well. I think that’s something that very few sports, there’s a lot of change, and small towns like mine, I think that’s what makes us so close.”
DiPietro was awarded the first ever Key to the City of Amherstburg by the Mayor in a special ceremony on his day with the Cup that now hangs on a wall in his childhood home. He also enjoyed a party to celebrate what has been a busy year for the 18-year-old, who graduated from high school and was selected in the NHL Draft.
It was a humbling experience for the netminder, who understands the role he now plays as a positive influence for the next group of minor hockey players.
He’s thankful for everyone who’s helped him along the way and wants to share the joy of the Memorial Cup victory with all of them.
“In the big picture, I didn’t really win the trophy or my team didn’t really win the trophy. The people around us that got us to the point to be able to perform the way we do to inevitably win the trophy. Every player has a team surrounding them in their family and friends and that’s something that they can all share in is the victory.”
Michael DiPietro with the Memorial Cup.
“When you’re young and playing minor hockey, coaches aren’t paid. They’re all volunteers. I had all my old coaches come over and they were hanging out with the trophy,” said Tyler Nother (Halton Hurricanes). “It was just cool to see them there because they gave up their time when we needed someone to coach us and develop us as hockey players. I think it’s important just for them to see it.”
Like his teammate, Nother spent the evening with those close to him, showcasing the Cup at a barbeque. Earlier in the day, the Orangeville native brought the Cup to the local Legion, sharing the moment with a group of veterans. The trophy is dedicated to honour all Canadian soldiers who have died fighting for the country.
“Bringing a trophy like that home is gratifying personally but I think it’s more important when you win something like that, you should be able to see as many people and touch as many people as you can when you have it because it’s a pretty cool thing,” said Nother. “Sharing that experience with (the veterans) was pretty cool, they were pretty happy about it.”
Aaron Luchuk took it home to Kingston, acknowledging the help he received along the way by bringing it to his former elementary school. He’s still involved with the community and has built a relationship with some of the students and said the whole school was following his Memorial Cup journey.
“I feel it’s important for everyone, especially in the OHL and professional ranks, to give back to their community,” said the Kingston Jr. Frontenacs grad. “No one gets to where they are at this level without some help along the way from community rinks and the people growing up in schools so I think it’s important for them to give back as they get older.”
The Memorial Cup is awarded to the winner of a four-team tournament between the host city and the champions of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League. With the tournament in Windsor, the Spitfires automatically qualified for the final spot no matter the result of the playoff run in their own league, which ended in a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the opening round to the London Knights.
It was a defeat that left a bitter taste in a locker room that believed they were capable of much more.
“People might have labeled us as the underdogs but in our room we never believed it. We knew that we were a good hockey team,” said Nother. “We knew that we went seven games with a really good hockey team and obviously that’s what happens in the playoffs. Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.”
A 44-day layoff in between games awaited the Spitfires before the conclusion of OHL championships and start of the Memorial Cup. Once the tournament got rolling, Windsor would not lose another game en route to winning it all.
“None of the boys in the dressing room wanted to feel that same pain again, so everyone committed,” said Luchuk. “The coaching staff put in a tremendous plan for us in those 44 days in getting us ready and prepared for the Memorial Cup. It was a lot of long, hard days in working out and practicing but no one complained once.”
For many players, winning the Memorial Cup presents a once in a lifetime opportunity. Since expanding to its current four-team format in 1983, only three times have repeated as champions the following season. It’s not lost on the players just how special this moment is.
Aaron Luchuk hoists the Memorial Cup.
As one of the first teams to showcase a tour of the trophy, the Spitfires are hoping to create a new, meaningful tradition for whoever is fortunate enough to capture it next year.
“With our team kind of being the pioneers of starting a tour like that I think it’s just going to carry on from here because as you can see it means a lot to the players and it means a lot to the families of the players,” said Nother. “I think it’s a tradition that’s probably just going to keep going.”
“It’s something that we’re all going to be proud of for the rest of our lives.”
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