Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and the city itself will be in the national spotlight as hosts of the 2017 Memorial Cup tournament that begins on May 19. As someone with a long association to Windsor through family and hockey, thoughts are many and memorable related to the town and the Spitfires.
When I think of Windsor, I think mostly good thoughts. Such as:
Windsor Arena. Aka the Old Barn and a hockey fixture on the corner of Wyandotte and McDougall from 1924 to 2013, there is no rink quite like erstwhile Windsor Arena. From the crowded aisles to the crowded corridors to the many seats right on top of the action, the Old Barn has legendary status earned through the decades of senior and junior hockey. I probably went to more than 50 games at Windsor Arena over the years including a number with my old Sault This Week sportswriter sidekick Kenny Hilderley. If you never made it to Windsor Arena for a Spitfires game, words of description will not do justice. But if you have ever been there for a Spitfires game or two, chances are you can relate to what I am saying about the Old Barn.
Coach Wayne Maxner. My old buddy Max had three different stints as Spitfires coach and general manager, starting in 1975 and finishing in 1993. As much of a colourful character as he was an effective coach and GM, Max had a way of getting the maximum out of fringe and borderline players and pushing average players to be better than average. Max is now 74 years old and when I think of him, I still shake my head and chuckle and remember some fun times over a few pops and a few road trips.
My two favourite Spitfires. They would be Sault Ste. Marie products Brent Jarrett and Cory Evans. Playing as an overage forward in Windsor after being acquired in a trade with the Soo Greyhounds by the aforementioned Wayne Maxner, Jarrett put up 118 points during the 1979-1980 season despite being one of the smallest players in the OHL. And while Evans was never much of a scorer as a truculent left winger, he was a Windsor Arena fan favourite from 1993 to 1995 and remains one of the best guys I have ever met in 42-plus years as a sportswriter and sportscaster.
Grand Tavern. My favourite Windsor watering hole of all time, located at 1014 Howard Ave., one building over from Erie St. It was my favourite bar in Windsor for a number of reasons including the fact that my uncle Steve Ilijanich owned it and tended bar at it for about a half a century. (Hence, I drank there for free.) Among the many folks who I drank a beer with at the old Grand over the years would include TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie, retired Windsor Star columnist Chris Vander Doelen and the aforementioned likes of Kenny Hilderley, Wayne Maxner and Cory Evans.
Road hockey. Around the time we were 11 or 12 years old, my late cousin Jeff Ilijanich and I used to “star” in road hockey matches on Lillian St., just off Erie in Windsor’s little Italy. The highlight of our ball hockey careers for both Jeff and I was scoring goals on a kid named Eddie Mio, who would go on to tend goal in the National Hockey League for the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings.
Down by the schoolyards. When my cousin Jeff and I weren’t playing road hockey or shooting pool we were playing pitcher-catcher baseball at Prince Edward elementary school and chasing a girl named Sinikka around the neighbourhood of the old Patterson Collegiate high school.
CKLW. The Big 8 ranks as one of the best radio stations of all time from its glory days of all-hit music and 20-20 news. I could not get enough of listening to the Big 8 when it was in its prime.
Malic’s Delicatessen. Easily the best corned beef sandwich I have ever eaten is at Malic’s on Wyandotte near the old Windsor Arena. I had my first corned beef sandwich at Malic’s more than 50 years ago and the place is still open.
Kurly’s Sports Bar. Next to my uncle Steve’s Grand Tavern, Kurly’s is a favourite all-time Windsor bar of mine. I was last there about two years and the old Erie St. watering hole has not changed much. There used to be a burly bartender named Marcel who worked at Kurly’s when I was a regular there more than 20 years ago.
Motor Burger. Another Erie St. favourite, I just started going to Motor Burger about four or so years ago when my son worked there while putting himself through law school. Home-made burgers and craft beer brewed on site. Yup, my kind of place.
Bobby Russon. My boy resides in Windsor and is a criminal defense lawyer and a proud home owner. If you ever need a lawyer, give the kid a call. His colleagues all tell me that my Bobby is a damn-good lawyer. Better than that, he’s a good guy. Love you, son.
PHOTO: The 1979-1980 Windsor Spitfires.