Current Windsor Spitfires’ ownership finally admitted to the worst kept secret in hockey on Tuesday.
In a statement, ownership acknowledged that the team is indeed negotiating a sale of the team with the ownership group of majority owner Bob Boughner and minority owners Warren Rychel and the Cypher Systems Group of John Savage, Stephen Savage and Brian Schwab poised to move on from the club.
“In an effort to be open with our fans, The Windsor Spitfires would like to address the recent speculation regarding future ownership of the club,” the club statement said.
“We can confirm that there are currently ongoing discussions related to the potential sale of the Windsor Spitfires, which will ultimately be subject to Ontario Hockey League (OHL) approval.
“We want to assure our players, their families, fans and members of that Windsor community that if a sale is approved and moves forward, there is a mutual agreement between both parties involved that the Spitfires will remain committed to the continued development of a winning franchise, maximizing the fan experience and supporting the Windsor community through its various outreach programs.
“It is expected that hockey and administrative departments will remain intact.”
With the announcement, the most successful chapter in the history of the Spitfires’ franchise now appears to be nearing an end.
While not acknowledging the buyer, all signs point to Smiles First Corporation founder and CEO Dr. Azim Parekh. A call to Parekh’s suburban Toronto office was not returned.
Parekh’s son, defenceman Isa Parekh, was unrated for Saturday’s Ontario Hockey League Draft, but taken by the Spitfires in the fifth round. His other son, Aydin Parekh, is expected to be selected by the Spitfires in Wednesday’s OHL Under-18 Draft. He is available because he was not taken in last year’s priority selection and was again passed over this year.
Boughner, Rychel and Peter Dobrich purchased the team in 2006 for $6 million. The Cypher System Group purchased a 30 per cent stake in the team in 2013 while buying out Dobrich and a percentage from both Boughner and Rychel.
Boughner, who retired from the NHL as a player to become head coach of the team, was twice named OHL and Canadian Hockey League coach of the year while guiding the Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cup titles in 2009 and 2010, which were the first in franchise history. Until Sunday, he was head coach of the NHL’s Florida Panthers.
Rychel handled his 14th OHL Draft as the club’s general manager on Saturday. He built a third Memorial Cup champion in 2017 when Windsor hosted the event and was named OHL executive of the year in 2009.
Rumours of the team’s sale have popped up for years as the attendance has slipped dramatically in recent seasons. After moving into the new 6,500-seat WFCU Centre in 2009-10, the club’s average attendance peaked at 6,278 fans per game. This season, which ended with the team failing to reach the second round of the OHL playoffs for an eighth-straight season, saw the club still among the top five teams, in terms of draw in the league, but averaged just 4,146 fans per game.
The league must still approve the sale to Parekh and there are already some concerns the potential ownership change is not been greeted favourably in hockey circles.
Centre Wyatt Johnston, who was the club’s first-round pick in Saturday’s OHL Draft, has not responded to repeated calls looking to clarify if he will report to the club. His agent, Andy Scott, also has not returned calls on the subject.
It would mark the first time in Rychel’s 14 seasons that his top pick did not report to the team.
“I’m reaching out to him,” said Rychel, who would not say if has spoken to Johnston or his agent. “I firmly believe he’ll join our club at some time. I don’t know if it’ll be Saturday (when the club holds its annual prospects camp).”
The sale is subject to league review and approval and OHL commissioner said on Tuesday that the league has not received an application in regards to the sale.
“Everything must be conditional upon league approval,” Branch said. “There’s a formal application and an application process to be followed.
“This is a very significant matter and the matter will be worked on to do proper due diligence. There is no timetable.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019