Soo to Windsor connection

September 26, 2022

Since its entry into the Ontario Hockey League as an expansion franchise in 1975 a slew of personnel from Sault Ste. Marie either played for or coached the Windsor Spitfires.

From the late 1970s on, here are some of those from Sault Ste. Marie who have had an OHL affiliation with the Spitfires.

Dave Mancuso. After spending four-plus seasons on the defence of his hometown Soo Greyhounds, the smooth skating defender was dealt to Windsor midway through the 1977-1978 campaign for winger Tom McLeod. Mancuso would skate in 32 games for the Spitfires and score two goals, seven assists, nine points before going on to play at the minor pro level and then star for the University of New Brunswick Reds.

Brent Jarrett as a Spitfire, circa 1980.

Brent Jarrett. An unlikely superstar, Jarrett was languishing with the Soo Thunderbirds of the erstwhile International Jr. B Hockey League in 1977 when the Soo Greyhounds, who were short on players, called the small center up to the OHL. And Jarrett would never return to the Jr. B level, becoming an OHL standout instead. After parts of two seasons with the Greyhounds, for whom he averaged close to a point per game, Jarrett was traded to Windsor for fellow center Dave Hannan, who had fallen out of favour with Spitfires coach-general manager Wayne Maxner. Under Maxner, Jarrett became an OHL star in Windsor. In parts of two seasons with the Spitfires — including an overage campaign — Jarrett busted loose for 44 goals, 124 assists, 168 points in only 90 games. With speed to burn and a peppery attitude, Jarrett earned his place as one of the more productive Spitfires in franchise history. 

Toots Kovacs. A fearless left winger, Kovacs played in only nine games for the Spitfires during the 1978-1979 season, recording three assists while piling up 95 minutes in penalties and becoming a Windsor Arena fan favourite. Never drafted into the OHL, Kovacs went from the Soo Greyhounds to Windsor and back to his hometown team, playing in just 46 games over parts of three seasons between the two clubs. And while his time in the OHL — especially in Windsor — was brief, Kovacs stood out as a tough, team first, character individual who cherished every single second that he spent in the league. Now retired from a career in the youth justice system, Kovacs has stayed in the game as an assistant coach with the Sault College Cougars varsity men’s team.

Gus Greco. A grinding left winger, Greco was picked by Windsor in the third round of the 1980 OHL Draft. He netted 53 goals in 119 games for the Spitfires before being traded to his hometown Soo Greyhounds.

Terry Maki. A left winger and originally a draft pick of the erstwhile Brantford Alexanders, Maki would be dealt to Windsor as part of a six player deal in 1983. He skated in 35 games for the Spitfires and posted seven goals, 11 assists, 18 points.

John Becanic Sr. Mr. B, as he was known locally, headed to Windsor midway through the 1982-1983 season and coached the rag tag Spitfires into the OHL playoffs. But new ownership took over the Spitfires the following season and Becanic was not re-hired as the bench boss.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice. A third round pick by Windsor at the 1984 OHL draft, the big, hulking defenseman would play in parts of four seasons with the Spitfires before retiring at age 20 to become an assistant coach with the team. By 1995 Maurice was a head coach in the National Hockey League. And, amazingly, the Sault Ste. Marie lad turned middle age man has now coached in close to 1,700 games in the NHL with a number of teams.

Rob Frayn. A third round draft pick by the erstwhile North Bay Centennials in 1989, the big defenseman would also play for the Belleville Bulls and Kitchener Rangers before finishing his OHL career in Windsor in 1991-1992. Frayn would be a solid addition to the Spitfire blue line and contribute six goals, eight assists, 14 points in 37 games from his defence position.

Kevin MacKay. Originally an afterthought of a 19th round pick by the Belleville Bulls at the 1988 OHL draft, the hard working winger would flourish in Windsor after being acquired by the Spitfires in a trade. In 147 games with the Spitfires, MacKay scored 83 goals, remarkable totals for a former 19th round pick who was somehow passed over by the hometown Soo Greyhounds.

Cory Evans. A seventh round draft pick of London in 1991, the fibrous left winger would play parts of three seasons with the Knights before being traded to Windsor where he became a point per game player with the Spitfires. Though skating was his drawback, Evans was an on-ice leader for the Spitfires with a crashing, rambunctious style that resulted in a multitude of goals, assists and penalty minutes. Absolutely afraid of no one, Evans tangled with feared OHL enforcers such as tough guy Brian Goudie of the Greyhounds and rugged hombres Dennis Bonvie and Brad Brown of the North Bay Centennials.

Joey Sewell. A second round pick by the Spitfires in 1998, the big right winger would become a physical presence for the Spitfires. From Garden River First Nation, Sewell would go on to score 30 goals and rack up more than 400 minutes in penalties over three seasons with the Spitfires.

Craig Kennedy. ‘Cool Hand Craig’ personified consistency after the Spitfires took him in the second round of the 1999 OHL priority selections draft. A balanced, hard-working right winger, Kennedy played five full seasons in Windsor, totalling 113 goals along the way, playoffs included. Known for his smarts and leadership qualities, Kennedy quietly rose to become an assistant captain and then captain for the Spitfires before playing at the University of Western Ontario. Now a school teacher in Sault Ste. Marie, Kennedy also coaches minor hockey in his hometown.

Jordan Nolan. Originally drafted by the Erie Otters in 2005, the big left winger from Garden River First Nation would then play two seasons in Windsor and score 24 goals before being traded to his hometown Greyhounds. Nolan has since gone on to play in 400 NHL games and win a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings as an overachiever.

Mario Culina

Anthony Stefano. Drafted by the Peterborough Petes in 2013, the sturdy left winger would make his way to Windsor and score 12 goals in 50 games with the Spitfires. He later returned to the Motor City to play for the University of Windsor Lancers.

Mario Culina. Culina joined the Spitfires as an un-drafted free agent from the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in 2015. Culina would be a valuable backup goalie to starter Michael DiPietro for two seasons in Windsor and was part of the Spitfires stunning Memorial Cup championship team of 2017. Culina fashioned a two season record of 23-13-2 as a Spitfire before joining the Kitchener Rangers as an overage midway through the 2017-2018 campaign. At last getting the chance to be a starter as a 20-year old, Culina led Kitchener through three rounds of the playoffs before the Rangers finally bowed out to the heavily favoured Soo Greyhounds in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Gage Evans. For now, he is a blossoming prospect of the Spitfires as a 6-foot-4 defenseman who was taken by Windsor in the 14th round of the 2022 OHL priority selections draft from the Soo Jr. Greyhounds of the Great North Under 18 Hockey League. After an impressive showing at this fall’s Spitfire training camp, Evans remained in town to sign with the Windsor Zone of the Under 18 Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario. In that he has now moved from the Soo to Windsor to play hockey, Evans will be under the watchful eyes of the management of the OHL Spitfires this season. Of note, he is the son of aforementioned Spitfires alumni Cory Evans.

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