The Windsor Spitfires can't fly under the radar now.
They haven't played a game in the 2008-09 Ontario Hockey League regular season yet they're ranked No. 1 in the entire Canadian Hockey League, which spans the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior leagues.
"Isn't that nice? Just what I wanted to hear," head coach Bob Boughner said dryly.
"I think we're going to have a bit of a target on our back being a team that's rated one of the higher teams. I think people are going to throw their best at us every night."
The 20-team OHL opens the regular season Wednesday with the Saginaw Spirit hosting the London Knights.
Windsor kicks off what is obviously expected to be a strong season on the road Friday against the Sarnia Sting.
The Belleville Bulls, runner-up in the OHL last season, and the London Knights are also expected to be contenders for a league title.
Windsor won 41 games last season and has a large returning cast that includes stars Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis. The forward and defenceman won gold medals with Canada's under-18 team at both the world championship in April and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in August.
"Even though they're still young, they're special players and these are the kind of guys you build championships around," Boughner said. "We want to surround them with as many great veterans as we can and make sure they're in an environment to succeed."
The Spits were driven by emotion and anguish the last month of the regular season following the sudden death of 19-year-old captain Mickey Renaud on Feb. 18. The Calgary Flames draft pick collapsed at his home and was later said by his family to have died of the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
"I think they were a really driven bunch of kids the last 10 games," Boughner said. "We knew he was watching us, but they wanted to make sure they did it for him and they did."
The Spitfires were upset by the Sting in the first round, partly due absence of their leading shut-down man in Renaud. Windsor didn't have anyone to stop the Sting's Steve Stamkos, who was the No. 1 pick in the NHL entry draft in June and is expected to play for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
The Spitfires will continue to wear Renaud's number on their jerseys and will retire No. 18 prior to the home-opener Sept. 25.
"It's going to be tough on everybody once again, but it's the right thing to do and something we want to do," Boughner said. "That's going to be a big part of us again this season."
Oshawa General forward John Tavares continues to be the player to watch in the OHL. He was allowed to play in the league at 15 under an exceptional player clause and has long been touted as the No. 1 NHL draft pick in 2009.
Tavares had 40 goals and 78 assists in 59 games last season following a 2006-07 campaign when he was the CHL's player of the year with 72 goals and 62 assists.
In the coaching ranks, Denny Lambert takes over in Sault Ste. Marie with the departure of Craig Hartsburg for the NHL's Ottawa Senators. Steve Spott was promoted to head coach in Kitchener when Peter DeBoer headed for the Florida Panthers.
The Erie Otters have given a three-year contract extension to Robbie Ftorek. He took over as head coach on Oct. 29, 2007.
Ken McRae is the new head coach in Peterborough and Jason Brooks has picked up the reins in Guelph following the departure of Dave Barr to become an assistant coach for the Colorado Avalanche.
Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Kilrea has said his 32nd season behind the Ottawa 67's bench will be his last. The 73-year-old intends to continue as general manager of the club after this season, when assistant Chris Byrne will be promoted to head coach.
Boughner and Warren Rychel, both former NHL players, bought the Windsor franchise in 2006. Rychel is the team's general manager.
The Spits will move out of the 84-year-old Windsor Arena and into a new 6,500 seat building in December.
"We know we have a good product and I think we're going to have the fan support with a new arena, but we're not losing sight of the big goal and that's going deep into the playoffs," Boughner said.
There was no point in ignoring the CHL rankings released last week, so Boughner addressed the team's No. 1 status with his players.
"We talked about how it really means nothing right now," he said. "We gave some examples of teams that used to be rated that high and our neighbours next to us, the Detroit Tigers, were supposed to win it all this year too. That was an easy example to pull from."
Notes - Ottawa will host the 2009 world junior hockey championship Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, when Canada chases a fifth straight gold medal in the tournament. . . . The Guelph Storm (Nov. 20) and Niagara IceDogs (Nov. 24) will host the OHL leg of the ADT Canada-Russia Series, pitting OHL players 19 and under against a Russian team.