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Windsor Spitfires’ first-year head coach Marc Savard is more than worthy of being named the Ontario Hockey League’s coach of the year.

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Flint’s Ted Dent is the Western Conference nominee and not to diminish the challenges he faced coaching the Firebirds, but the fact is Flint finished behind the Spitfires despite an unbalanced schedule that saw the team play 27 of its 68 games against the bottom two teams in the conference.

A veteran of 13 NHL seasons and more than 800 games, Savard was hired at the end of August and came into a coaching room of strangers.

Associate coach Jerrod Smith had applied for the head coaching job, but it went to Savard. Meanwhile, assistant coach Andy Delmore was hired thinking he was meeting with buddy Trevor Letowski, who left to become an assistant coach with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

“It’s not the way it usually works, but times change and things happen,” the 45-year-old Delmore said. “What makes us a special group is we bonded and got to know each other as coaches and people.

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“There was a learning curve at the beginning, but, as grown men, you figure things out and things fell into place.”

A lot had to be worked out for this trio to work together. The 37-year-old Smith, who has been with the team since 2011-12, had to accept the fact he would not be the man in charge.

“At the end of the day, I’ve got a job to develop these players as young men and that’s what I’m paid to do and it’s a passion,” said Smith, who had the title of director of player personnel added to his duties. “I took it as another opportunity.”

The 45-year-old Delmore, who coached two seasons with Letowski in Sarnia, had to accept the fact he wasn’t working with his former junior teammate.

“That was the plan, but things change in the hockey world,” Delmore said. “Trevor having that chance with Montreal was amazing for him and it all worked out.”

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Most of all, to his credit, the 44-year-old Savard did not come into the fold looking to flex his muscle as head coach.

“I let them have a voice and I think they appreciate that,” Savard said. “I think it’s a good give and take.”

But things didn’t roll early for the Spitfires, who got out of the gate with an 8-8-2-2 mark after 20 games.

“It’s taken us some time to gel and get going,” Smith said. “You saw some struggles early in the year and the mindset was better (it happen) early in year than later.”

Like a roster filled with new players in a dressing room, it took time to get to know one another and bond, but it did eventually happen.

“These guys have been really amazing,” Savard said of his staff. “I just think being together in this office and really having a lot of the same qualities and similarities of what we like, even away from rink. I’d find myself calling these guys every night and calling when we saw something in a game (on television).”

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Slowly, things began to fall into place for the Spitfires.

“With anything, you have to be careful of who runs what,” Smith said. “We talk about it together and collectively come up with schemes and game plans and decisions are made between the three of us. One might take the lead on the video and in meetings, but we bounce things off each other all the time.”

Windsor’s penalty kill, which was last in the league at one point, finished second overall in the 20-team league while the power play also made a steady climb to finish third in the league.

“That’s kudos to the players,” Delmore said. “We can put the plan in place, but it’s up to them to do the job and go out and have fun.”

The Spitfires closed the season with a 36-9-2-1 mark, which included a 13-game winning streak, to chase down the Firebirds and London Knights for the top spot in the Western Conference for the first time since 2010-11 and post the fourth-best finish in franchise history with 95 points.

“It’s never perfect,” Delmore said. “No, I don’t think it was a shock, but we all bring something to the table and we knew we could do it.”

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