WINDSOR, Ont. - The Spitfires were hailed as conquering heroes by thousands of wildly cheering fans during a parade and rally Tuesday in Windsor that honoured the newly crowned Memorial Cup champions.
The Spitfires made history in Rimouski, Que., on Sunday by becoming the first team in the 91-year history of the Memorial Cup tournament to win the event after dropping their first two games.
Fans lined the 2.6-kilometre parade route down Lauzon Road in the city's east end before jamming a community centre for a rally and championship team photo with fans in the background.
Perhaps the mood of the cheering faithful was captured by Canadian Hockey League President David Branch during his on-ice presentation of the Memorial Cup on Sunday night.
"The Spitfires are the spirit of Windsor," said Branch. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Clearly, the celebrations were for more than just the top team in the Canadian Hockey League. It was a spirited acknowledgment of a collection of young men who have given a troubled city a temporary distraction from its economic woes.
A blue collar city with 200,000 residents, Windsor has for months had the highest unemployment rate in Canada, and the local economy is ravaged by uncertainty in the auto industry, the region's largest employer.
Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis made no effort to mask his pride over the Spits' first-ever Memorial Cup title.
"I used to work with the lawyer who represents the new owners of the team," said Francis. "I received a phone call the night they took over the team and was told that they wanted to meet with me."
"It was the first time that I had ever met Bob (Boughner) Peter (Dobrich) and Warren (Rychel). They told me that they were going to build a championship team in three years."
Spits head coach Bob Boughner, himself a Windsor native, addressed the cheering faithful at the rally.
"The response we have received from not only our fans, but the entire community, has been overwhelming," said the reigning Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year.
One local player on the Spitfires, Eric Wellwood, says he's aware of the importance the team's success is to Windsor and Essex County residents.
"When you turn on the local news, all you hear is bad news," said the third-year winger from nearby Oldcastle. "So it's awesome to be a good news story for the people around here."