The Windsor Spitfires drafted me in the third round of the 2003 OHL Draft from the Pittsburgh Jr. B Penguins.
There is a long list of coaches that I had during my playing career in Windsor. The most notable and important to me was DJ Smith. He gave me a role within the team and invested much of his own time to my development on and off the ice. He’s always had a significant influence on me, and I genuinely believe that without him, I wouldn’t have played in the NHL.
Other coaches that I had during my OHL Career were Dave Pirpich, who was excellent. He’s a great man and was always positive. Another coach was Steve Smith, who, without a doubt, had the hardest training camp tests that I’ve ever done. In one of his tests, we had to complete a three-mile run in less than 20 minutes. During the season, we would have a ‘breakfast club’ where we would have to run from the old Windsor Arena barn to Hiram Walker’s and back. We would then have to go to school for a full day of classes.
I had some great teammates during my junior hockey days and was fortunate enough to play with some great players and future NHLers. Steve Downie, Cam Jansen, Bryan Bickel, Cal O’Reilly, and Mickey Renaud were all teammates of mine in Windsor.
I’ll never forget coming in my first year with the team and seeing Cam in the gym lifting 100lb dumbbells while barking at the rookies, “Welcome to the ‘O’ boys!”. While intimidating, Cam was a great teammate and always had my back my first season in the league.
In my first year in the OHL, we had a camera crew follow us around for the season. They were filming a movie called “Life in the O.” It was exciting to have them around, and it’s fun to look back on all of that now as an adult.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my fantastic billet families that I had during my time in Windsor. The Morneau and the Lockhart families. Mabel and Gary Lockhart would regularly cook for the whole team. It was not uncommon for all of us to be over there on a nightly basis for dinner and just hangout during our time away from the rink. I want to thank them for making my time away from home enjoyable and go as smoothly as possible.
Going to high school in Windsor has played a big part in my life during my junior days. I attended Holy Names for the first semester of Grade 10 and then transferred to St. Anne. The majority of the other high school players were already attending there, so it was a natural fit. My time at St. Anne was incredible, and I loved it. I’m still very close to many of my non-hockey friends that I made in those years.
I remember sitting with Mickey Renaud in the front row of Carl Spinarsky’s Law class, drinking our morning coffee and eating a bagel. He was a great teacher. He would challenge us to be more than just hockey players and had a significant influence on me.
The most important part about my high school days and Mr. Spinarsky’s class is that it was where I met my future wife, Janine. We are married and have three boys. Emerson is five, JJ is two and Harrison is eight months old.
I played three and a half years in Windsor and was the captain of the team in 2006-07 before being traded to the Barrie Colts. That was a difficult time for me. It was tough leaving the city that I had grown up and played my junior hockey in. I loved wearing the Spitfire jersey, and I’ll never forget my playing time here.
I was fortunate enough to go on to an 11-year pro career starting with the Buffalo Sabres. Later in my NHL career, I was traded to the Washington Capitals to try to help them bring a Stanley Cup to the U.S. Capital. While we fell short of that goal, my time and experiences there were amazing.
I finished my pro career playing for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League. This was a unique experience to see how their programs work. It’s a very different training and development regiment than we have over here in North America.
I owe the Windsor Spitfires everything. I came here as a 15-year-old and grew both as a hockey player and a person. My coaches and teammates helped me develop into a solid player and a man. I’m very fortunate and thankful to be back as an assistant coach, and I’m honoured to represent the Spitfires and this city. Windsor is truly my hometown.