With his junior career in a rut and the pressure mounting, defenseman Sean Day got the trade he needed. Fittingly, it might have also been the deal the Windsor Spitfires needed to clinch the Memorial Cup.
“It added depth at defense and also a great guy in the room,” said fellow D-man Logan Stanley. “He’s a good friend to me and a lot of the guys. This team is not the same without him, that’s for sure.”
Day, who grew up across the border in Michigan, was dealt from Mississauga to Windsor in mid-October for a package of draft picks. The New York Rangers prospect has been in the news for years thanks to the exceptional status designation that allowed him to enter the OHL a year early, but it hasn’t been an arrow-straight ascension for the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder.
The physical side of the game, from his fleet-footed skating to his NHL frame, was great. But the mental side, from his maturity to his ability to think the game on the ice, was a struggle. The trade made a big difference.
“It was a fresh start,” Day said. “A different look on the game, in a way. With how I was before and how I played, coming here with a new system and new coaching allowed me to forget about a lot of the stuff that happened and I could create a new identity.”
On a potent ‘D’ corps that also features NHL first-rounders Stanley (Winnipeg) and Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal) as well as Vancouver free agent signing Jalen Chatfield, Day has found his place. And his new bench boss has really pushed him in the right direction.
Day credits Windsor coach Rocky Thompson with helping the youngster up his maturity level and hammer out his play on both sides of the puck. The things Day can accomplish with his effortless skating haven’t been sacrificed in the process and that’s key, because the blueliner has a big advantage thanks to his natural gifts. And it didn’t take long for Day to get the green light from Thompson when it came to using those talents.
“Once he saw I was ready to play more of a defensive role he let me do my thing,” Day said. “He doesn’t get mad too much when we try to create offense from the blueline. It wasn’t right away, but it was pretty quick. I wanted to be a difference-maker and he allowed me to do that.”
The fact Day has been able to fit in with the Spitfires is another big factor in his turnaround campaign. He’s living at the same billet house as Sergachev and having a lot of fun with the Russian defender.
“We do everything together,” Day said. “He’s an awesome guy and he’s funny. He’s a weirdo and I’m a weirdo too. But you don’t go ninth overall as a mistake. He can do everything out there. We always go back and watch games together. We’ll talk to each other about different plays and it’s a cool relationship.”
For Windsor fans, the hope is that Day, Sergachev and their many talented teammates can go undefeated as hosts of the Memorial Cup and lift up the trophy on home ice tonight. The team had an excruciatingly long layoff after losing to the defending champion London Knights in the first round of the OHL playoffs, but the time off has seemed to work out well. The Spits got healthy and they got focused. Conditioning was a priority, but chemistry also went up another level and a team that has a lot of NHL draft picks became less about the individual and more about the collective.
“We have to know our roles,” Day said. “Sometimes during the season people might have wanted to play a bigger role than they were getting, but everyone has figured out where they slide into the puzzle. Once again, Rocky has found the right guys to fit in certain situations.”
And tonight, the situation is the rival Erie Otters. Windsor has already bested them once in the tournament, but the ultimate winner must prevail now. Can the Spitfires fend off the murderers’ row of scorers that Erie has up front? That’s going to be on Day and his fellow blueliners to accomplish one more time.