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“I’m a Spitfire forever”: Rychel leaves lasting legacy in Windsor

 

The Windsor Spitfires made big headlines on Thursday with the appointment of all-time franchise scoring leader Bill Bowler to the position of general manager and VP of hockey operations.

In a coinciding move, long-time GM and vice-president Warren Rychel announced he’d be stepping down from the position he’d held for the past 13 seasons in search of new opportunities in the National Hockey League.

A native of nearby Tecumseh, an OHL graduate and former NHL forward, Rychel became the architect of the only three Memorial Cup championship teams (2009, ’10, ’17) in the franchise’s 43-year modern-era history. He joins Matt Leyden (Oshawa Generals 1939, ’40, ’44) and Bob Brown (Kamloops Blazers 1992, ’94, ’95) as one of only three general managers to win three Memorial Cup crowns.

“It’s tough, nothing lasts forever,” he told Windsor media on Thursday.  “It’s a sad day but I’m not going away forever. I’m a Spitfire forever.”

Taking the reins of an 18-win Spitfires club in 2006-07, it took Rychel and head coach Bob Boughner just two seasons to turn the team into a national champion. The Spits would do it all over again in 2009-10, becoming the eighth team in CHL history to win back-to-back Memorial Cup titles.

The 2017 Windsor Spitfires hoisted the Memorial Cup on home ice, becoming the first team in CHL history to do so after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Through the highs and lows including the death of beloved captain Mickey Renaud in February 2008 through the club’s dynasty era that featured such names as Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis and Adam Henrique and into recent successes fuelled by the likes of OHL all-time shutouts leader Michael DiPietro, Rychel has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of memories with the Spits.

“I lived every shift with these guys in the good times and the bad times,” he told the Windsor Star’s Jim Parker. “I lived and died with the team and I’ve loved every kid that’s come through here. I hope I’ve touched their life in one way or another. I’m proud not just of the NHL players, but guys that went to school.

“I’ll miss coming to the rink every day,” he added. “It’s five miles from my house and I’ll miss coming to the rink in shorts, having a coffee and not worrying about anything and just getting in that room (his office).”

While Rychel has stated his goal is to “get back to the best league in the world” as he seeks out NHL openings, he’s confident the club is in good hands with the 44-year-old Bowler coming in as his replacement. Rychel will stay involved with the club as a consultant in the coming months.

Bowler’s number 9 hangs from the heights of the WFCU Centre, pointing back to a high-scoring career that yielded an OHL all-time record 318 assists between 1991-95. He has spent the past two seasons as the team’s vice-president of hockey and business operations. Bowler has also served as head coach and general manager of the LaSalle Vipers Jr. B club in recent years.

“I’m extremely confident, but honoured and privileged to be given the duty to manage this hockey club,” Bowler said of the opportunity.

Three Memorial Cups, two OHL Championships and over 500 combined regular season and playoff wins: Warren Rychel’s many accomplishments at the helm of the Windsor Spitfires are memorialized in the record books while many of the 32 Spitfires NHL Draft picks including 11 first round selections over the course of his tenure continue to make a significant impact in the pro ranks today.

For more on the decorated career of Warren Rychel as GM of the Spitfires, visit the Windsor Star.

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