Spitfire alums set to chase Memorial Cup title
(Windsor, ON) – A pair of Spitfires alumni hoisted the J. Ross Robertson Cup as Ontario Hockey League Champions with the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday. For former associate coach Dave Matsos and former second-round pick Ryan Moore, the title was a fitting reward for years of perseverance and dedication to the game.
Matsos joined the Spitfires as an associate coach following the second of the club’s back-to-back Memorial Cup titles and on the heels of a four-year stint as head coach of the Sheffield Steelers of the Elite Ice Hockey League (United Kingdom). That 2010-11 season ended with a loss to the Owen Sound Attack in the Western Conference final; a defeat Matsos admits left a bad taste.
“I’ve been fortunate in hockey to win,” said Matsos, who won the 1993 Memorial Cup as a player with the Soo Greyhounds. “Falling short that first year in Windsor stuck with me. The disappointment I felt.”
The now 44-year-old native of nearby Burlington, Ontario, points to Hamilton’s six-game series victory over those same Greyhounds as one of the highlights of his career. And it had nothing to do with the fact he had a hand in taking down his former junior club.
“Once you get the bug for winning, you get used to it. And you expect it,” Matsos told WindsorSpitfires.com, on the line from FirstOntario Centre. “To do it with this group of young men is a tremendous feeling. Such a great and resilient group.”
A key cog in that team-first approach was overage forward Ryan Moore.
A highly-touted prospect, taken 35th overall in the 2013 Ontario Hockey League priority selection out of the Belle Tire AAA program in Detroit, Moore was traded to the Plymouth Whalers midway through the 2014-15 season, after a largely disappointing run of just 98 games in a Spitfires uniform.
The move was admittedly jarring for a 17-year-old kid with a history of success in the game.
“Moving up to the OHL, it took longer to learn things than I thought,” said the now 21-year-old Troy, Michigan native. “Looking back, it was the start of an up-and-down journey. One that ended pretty well though, I guess (laughs).”
Moore’s contribution to a balanced Bulldogs attack through its title run was significant. In 21 games, he scored eight times and added 18 assists.
“Getting back together with Cammy and Will was big,” Moore said, in reference to former Firebirds teammates Nicholas Caamano and Will Bitten, who all played under current Hamilton head Coach John Gruden in Flint. “The three of us have come so far together.”
Moore credits Gruden, assistant coaches Ron Wilson and Vince Laise and Matsos for their even-keeled approach. And he sees some irony in how a series of circumstances led to he and “Matty” joining forces, after just missing each other in Windsor nearly five years ago.
“I can’t say enough great things about him,” Moore said. “Such a great mind for the game. A great communicator. And an even better person off the ice. Matty’s been through a lot. It goes to show how hard it is to get here and it makes it that much sweeter to win this together.”
The respect is mutual.
“When he came here (in a trade with Flint back in November), we knew we got a phenomenal kid,” Matsos said. “A great teammate. Completely coachable. Coming into the playoffs, as an overager with little playoff experience and to come out of four tough rounds with an OHL title, it’s a real feather in his cap. He deserves it.”
Both Matsos and Moore are quick to point out there’s work to be done, as the Bulldogs head out for the 100th MasterCard Memorial Cup, which starts Friday in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“Still one big one to go,” said Moore. “I was in Windsor when the boys won it last year. To have the chance to compete for a national title is an opportunity not many get.”