They were the best years of Taylor Hall’s life, but he didn’t know it at the time.
Now an NHL star with the New Jersey Devils, he was fortunate enough to be a Windsor Spitfire for three seasons and was their best player in their back-to-back Memorial Cup runs in 2009 and 2010.
On Saturday, he returned to Windsor for a homecoming of sorts during the CHL Alumni Game, held in advance of Sunday’s Memorial Cup.
“I’m still close with my billet family that I lived with here and it’s great to see them,” said Hall, the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
“It’s great to see a lot of people here. Just being in the city again brings back a lot of great memories for me.”
Hall was especially excited to see the Spitfires doing so well as tournament hosts, advancing to the championship game by defeating the OHL, QMJHL and WHL champions in the round robin.
Sunday’s final will be between Windsor and the Erie Otters as the Spitfires try to cap off a 4-0 run at the Memorial Cup.
Hall and his former Windsor teammates are familiar with having to win four games in a row at the Memorial Cup as they ran the table after starting off the 2009 tournament with a pair of losses.
“We had to win four in a row to win the championship and then the next year, we kind of made it easier on ourselves,” he said.
“They both had their challenges. We were just such a close team that win or lose, we were still having a good time.”
Fellow New Jersey Devil Adam Henrique was another star on those back-to-back championship teams and like Hall, still pays a lot of attention to the Spits.
He still keeps tabs with a lot of the team’s trainers and knew about the tough spot they were in when they fell in the opening round of the OHL playoffs to the powerhouse London Knights, sparking a 44-day layoff before the Memorial Cup.
Being around so many Windsor alums naturally brought him back down memory lane.
“When we won, a lot of people were going through some tough times,” Henrique said.
“We heard all of the stories when we came back and how big it was for the city. To finally be able to host it here is great. They’ve done a great job. Coming down, obviously a lot of the alumni guys want to be a part of it.”
Co-owners Warren Rychel and Bob Boughner couldn’t help but get in on the action Saturday too.
The former NHL tough guys played prominent roles in shaping the 2009 and 2010 teams. Rychel was general manager, a role he still serves today and Boughner was their coach.
Boughner is amazed with how well current coach Rocky Thompson has prepared this year’s team and he has full confidence heading into the final.
“It’s tough to win four in a row in any tournament, but I love the way we’re playing, I love the way the staff has got these guys ready.” Boughner said.
“It’s not just our dreams, but it’s the kids’ dreams to host it in front of their own friends. It’s a sell-out crowd and on national TV, so it tops everything we’ve done in franchise history in my mind.”
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