Spitfires, fans persevere through tragedy

TMLfans.ca guest columnist Monika Moravan gives us the following observations from the series-winning game of the OHL Final at Windsor’s WFCU Centre.

Spitfires, fans persevere through tragedy

Hockey is an inexhaustible yarn knitting together stitches from the lives of complete strangers.

I came to this realization watching the Windsor Spitfires clinch their first OHL title since 1988 on the strength of Taylor Hall’s overtime winner.

Many of the Spitfires looked more relieved than jubilant, the weight of playing for a phantom friend lifted off their young shoulders with the hoisting of a trophy.

On February 18th, 2008 the Spits lost their captain. Mickey Renaud died far too soon, only 18, of a heart condition. His death united a group of young men with a common purpose.

On July 14th, 2005, I lost my friend Sakura Handa. Like Renaud, her life was cut short, dying in a fatal car crash when she was 37. Handa was an avid hockey fan, a long-suffering Leafs supporter who was known on message boards as m-gro.

Her passion for junior hockey transcended above and beyond team loyalty, and it was her influence that encouraged me to follow it more closely.

How fitting that I spent the morning of what would have been Handa’s 41st birthday riding the rails 400km, and the evening enjoying a bird’s eye view from my press box perch as CHL President Dave Branch presented the Robertson Trophy to Windsor’s homegrown captain Harry Young.

Standing on the ice in the midst of the celebrations, I heard people say “This is for Mickey” but in my mind, in my heart the words echoed as “This one’s for you m-gro”

The ice underfoot was melting as memories froze in time and in mind. How odd that the writer and the players were experiencing something similar. At first, exuberance and elation to be part of this moment, followed by the longing and regret at not being able to see it all reflected in a friend’s eyes. Toss in a pang or two of guilt for good measure.

The feeling doesn’t last too long; one brief bite of bitterness makes the ones that follow taste like they are drenched in honey. No one is immune – neither the 19-year-old hockey player nor the 39-year old scribe.

The 2008-2009 Windsor Spitfires learned something far more than what it takes to earn a championship – sometimes those who cannot be present are always with us, part of the spell hockey casts over all who are part of it.

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