Spits focused on repeat

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Warren Rychel knows the sky-high expectations.

The London-born Windsor Spitfires GM has put together a top-ranked roster better than the one that captured the Memorial Cup last spring in Rimouski.

But talk of a 60-win romp through the 68-game OHL regular season, he thinks, is silly stuff.

"Only a few (Canadian Hockey League) teams have done it and I don't think anyone will win 60 again," Rychel said. "The only reason London (Knights) won (59) games that year (2004-05) was because of the (NHL) lockout. They didn't lose anybody.

"I give them credit because guys were gone at the world juniors and they still won games. But we're starting the season with rookies in the lineup (tomorrow at home against the Plymouth Whalers) and we'll have rookies in there when we come to London (Friday).

"You just sit back and wait to see which guys come back."

The most vital number in Windsor isn't 60. It remains 18 -- the digits worn by late captain Mickey Renaud, whose spirit the Spits believe helped them soar to their Cup win.

"We're always going to have the No. 18 on our wing patch," Rychel said, "and we'll have Mickey's gear in our dressing room, but it's not going to be as public as it was (last season). We'll keep it more private. But even the new guys coming in know what Mickey meant to this team."

The Spits won 57 games in 2008-09. Head coach Bob Boughner said his team has a bull's-eye on its back this season and talked to Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock about the pressures of repeating.

No CHL team has won two straight Memorial Cups since the Kamloops Blazers in 1994-95. No OHL team has won the league back-to-back since the Soo Greyhounds in 1991-92.

"But these guys are self-motivated so you don't have to worry about it," Rychel said. "Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler will be battling for top pick in the draft. Guys are playing for world junior teams. Austin Watson wants to be a high first-round pick and Justin Shugg wants to improve his draft status. We have a lot of that on this team."

Windsor's biggest concern will be managing how this group handles the ebb and flow of the season. They don't want to burn out without getting a crack at another Cup in Brandon, Man.

"Something Bob and I will do is monitor rest," Rychel said. "It's not about the regular season. It's what's at the end of the rainbow and these guys saw that last year.

"We played 99 games last year and the season didn't end until June 1. We had guys play a lot of hockey in the summer and some of them will have a lot more again this year."

Last season, the Spits were gunning for 60 wins until London's John Tavares beat them with a hat trick in the dying days of the regular season.

"If we won that game, we would've went for the all-time mark but after London beat us, we stopped thinking about it," Rychel said. "We rested some guys after that and I think that really helped us throughout the playoffs and at the Memorial Cup to keep us fresh."

And a spunky, upbeat Windsor team is trouble for the 19 other OHL clubs.

This year, the only team that should be able to beat the Spitfires is themselves. And next year? They're favourites to play host to the Memorial Cup in 2011. A decision on that site, OHL commissioner David Branch said, will be announced by May.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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OHL NEW RULES

On-ice: The league will no longer give 10-minute misconducts for diving. The infraction will only consist of a two-minute minor penalty.

Rookies: To be considered a rookie in the league, a player must begin his first season of play as a 17-year-old or younger. Second-year players 17 or younger will receive rookie status if they played in less than a quarter (17 games) of the previous year's regular season.

Draft: All players properly registered and playing for an Ontario-based minor midget AAA team will automatically be deemed eligible.

Special events: The Canada-Russia Subway Super Series will be at Barrie's Molson Centre on Nov. 19 and at Windsor's WFCU Centre on Nov. 23. The all-star class is at Kingston's K-Rock Centre on Feb. 2-3 and the OHL Cup midget showcase will again be at Mississauga's Hershey Centre March 17-21.


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