Scrapping of OHL season a 'letdown' for Windsor Spitfires

·3 min read
Spitfires forward Matt Maggio, who played hockey in Sweden over the winter while the OHL was on hiatus, said the cancellation is a disappointment. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)
Spitfires forward Matt Maggio, who played hockey in Sweden over the winter while the OHL was on hiatus, said the cancellation is a disappointment. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)

The third wave of COVID-19 has dashed any hopes of a return of the Ontario Hockey League this season, a decision that's been a blow to the Windsor Spitfires.

"It was obviously pretty frustrating and a big a letdown, but, I mean, we've kind of seen it coming for some time now," said 18-year-old forward Matt Maggio.

This would have been the Tecumseh, Ont., resident's third season in the OHL. It would have also been a chance to impress pro scouts prior to the 2021 NHL draft.

"It's pretty tough, and not being able to showcase myself and everything that I've worked on for the last little while," he said.

Head Coach Trevor Letowski said he was still optimistic up until recently but also knew in the back of his mind that there was a possibility the season would be cancelled outright.

"When it becomes a reality, it's more emotional, I think, than we would have even thought," he said.

The OHL pulled the plug on its 2020-21 season on Tuesday.

With the provincial government extending a stay-at-home order through May 20 and the health-care system struggling to cope with a ferocious third wave energized by highly contagious variants of concern, time had simply run out.

"A couple of weeks ago, we received permission from the chief medical officer and the premier that we could return and play," league commissioner David Branch said on a video conference call with reporters. "On the eve of that announcement, the COVID-19 conditions dramatically worsened."

"Since then, we've had an extended stay-at-home order. [With] the increasing severity of the variants ... we just couldn't safely return to play this season."

'A loss for words'

The Spitfires had a players' meeting following the news on Tuesday.

"You could kind of tell everyone was at a loss for words," Maggio said.

Letwoski says the most emotional part for him is that for players who are aging out of junior hockey, the season that never was will mark the end of their OHL careers.

"We had a really good group of older players here in Windsor, and so that's sad. I let them know how much they'll be missed and they had an opportunity to say a few words to younger players," he said.

Despite the cancellation of the OHL season, the western and Quebec leagues forged ahead.

Spitfires General Manager Bill Bowler told CBC Radio's Windsor Morning that's one of the reasons why people are "so disappointed and so upset."

He believes the season could have proceeded with the safety protocols that had been developed.

"Unfortunately — it's no one's fault — things just changed for the worse and we went into another lockdown and obviously it's not enough time and we just couldn't get a season in," Bowler said.

Asked what the cancellation might mean for the players' careers, he said that while only time will tell, the 17 or 18 months without competition will have an effect.

"I'd like to spin it so it's a positive but no question, the development of these young hockey players will be stunted, or there's no way this won't affect them," he said.