(All over Ontario) – The Mopar Community Tour of Champions was originally slated to be a local initiative, one that would bring the Memorial Cup to thousands of fans across Windsor-Essex.
But that all started to change as spring turned to summer.
“It seemed like every day for about a week, we were getting phone calls and texts from players, asking if they could get the Cup to their hometowns,” tour coordinator Dan Dobrich recalled. “Originally, the idea seemed unlikely. But the more we thought about it and talked it out, the more realistic it became.”
With that, a seven-day, 14-city tour across Ontario, with junior hockey’s biggest prize, was born.
Eventually covering more than 1,500 kilometres, the trip began on Saturday, August 5th in Hamilton, Waterdown and Burlington, where the Cup visited overager Cristiano DiGiacinto and defenceman Austin McEneny. Both made the most of their split day with family and friends; DiGiacinto with young minor hockey players at the Gateway Ice Centre in Hamilton and later ALP Training Institute, while McEneny welcomed about 50 guests to his favourite hangout – Turtle Jack’s in Waterdown.
“Being born and raised here, it’s nice to be able to give back,” DiGiacinto said. “Without the support I got here, this wouldn’t be a possibility.”
McEneny said the chance to bring the Cup home was a dream come true.
“This is unbelievable,” he said. “I hang out here a lot in the summer, so it’s nice to have all my friends and family here to share this.”
A visit to championship game hero Aaron Luchuk was next on the agenda. The 20-year-old centre, whose goal at 5:07 of the third period proved to be the Memorial Cup title clincher, brought the trophy to historic Fort Henry after a few stops around his hometown.
“It was definitely surreal,” Luchuk said. “To have everyone come from all over the place to Kingston to be part of this day was special.”
Heading back west, the tour went from Canada’s original capital city to one of the country’s smallest towns, landing at Hayden McCool’s family home in Newtonville, just outside of Oshawa.
“We all really appreciate the team doing this,” the three-year Spitfire said. “Hauling the Cup around to all the boys, so our family and friends could see it up close and get a sense of what we accomplished. It’s been unreal.”
The following day, McCool brought the Cup – albeit a little late! – to Twist Whitby, the gym where both he and Adam Laishram have trained for the last five years. It was a special experience for the longtime friends, who were reunited when Laishram was dealt to Windsor from Hamilton near the trade deadline.
The two played minor hockey together in Whitby.
“Getting to hoist the Memorial Cup back in May with all the guys was obviously a great experience,” the Ashburn, Ontario native said. “But having this kind of an opportunity, the chance to share it with our families, is really what it’s all about. People came from all over to celebrate with me. The whole day was awesome.”
Hundreds of local well-wishers turned out to the East Gwillimbury Sports Complex on Wednesday, August 9th, to see Graham Knott. Former coaches, family friends and hockey parents came by to get their picture taken with the Cup, and to meet their local hero.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Knott said. “To be able to see the people that got me to the places I’ve been and to share something with them as a thanks for all they’ve done for me has been fun.”
Day six of the tour was another double-dip, as defenceman Tyler Nother and co-captain Jeremiah Addison split a beautiful, sunny day in the GTA.
“To be able to win a national championship and to have a day like this with my friends and family is huge,” Addison said at The Country Club in Vaughan. “When I came to Windsor, I knew we were building something special. (General Manager) Warren (Rychel) told me right from the start, ‘we’re here to win’. He only picks winners. That’s the reality of it. We were able to come together as a team and an organization and come out on top. It’s something I’ll be proud of forever.”
Our final stop was bittersweet, to say the least, as we hooked up with Logan Stanley in Waterloo just days after his announced trade to the Kitchener Rangers.
Among his stops with the Cup was Depth Training – where he rehabbed following knee surgery in January. Originally questionable to participate in the Mastercard Memorial Cup, Stanley returned two weeks early, giving him ample time to work back into game shape.
“It’s fun to bring it to this place. They’re a big reason why I was able to play for a Memorial Cup. To bring it here is definitely special and something I owed them.”
Dedicated to those who served Canada in World War I, no Memorial Cup tour would have been complete without honouring the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Cup visited Royal Canadian Legion branches in Waterdown (551) Whitby (112) Mount Albert (382) and Orangeville (233).
Dobrich says he’s most proud of that.
“Not only did the vets love seeing the Cup and spending some time telling stories,” Dobrich began, “But bringing it to the legions had a big effect on me and the players. Seeing all the wartime artifacts, meeting two 95-year old servicemen in Orangeville. It was eye-opening. Something that makes you really think about the sacrifices made. A gratifying experience.”
The Mopar Tour of Champions Ontario Week would not have been possible without the generosity of the Westmont Hospitality Group, who arranged stays for team staff at Holiday Inn, Quality Inn, Comfort Inn and Best Western Plus locations.
“We can’t thank Westmont enough,” Dobrich said. “They really got into the spirit of this trip and believed in what we and Mopar were doing. Our accommodations were great and it made a huge difference to have it all planned out for us.”
For more information visit windsorspitfires.com.