Spitfires sign top pick and ‘Do whatever it takes’ defenceman Cristoforo

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Author of the article:

Jim Parker  •  Windsor Star

Defenceman and Windsor Spitfires' first-round pick Anthony Cristoforo has signed with the team.
Defenceman and Windsor Spitfires’ first-round pick Anthony Cristoforo has signed with the team. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

While the Windsor Spitfires take aim at a Western Conference title, defenceman Anthony Cristoforo is already dreaming about next season.

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The 16-year-old Cristoforo, who was the club’s first-round pick in last month’s Ontario Hockey League Draft, officially joined the club on Friday after signing his standard player agreement.

“I wish training camp was tomorrow,” Cristoforo said. “To say I’ve been anxious (about officially signing) would be lying. I’m just so excited.”

The 5-foot-11, 178-pound Cristoforo was the fifth member of the Toronto Junior Canadiens minor midgets taken in this year’s draft, but the first defenceman selected from the team. 

“People in Windsor are going to love him,” said Junior Canadiens’ head coach Dan Cisca, who has coached him the past nine seasons. “His compete level is so high and there’s no fear factor. He’ll do whatever it takes to win.

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“I’ve had him since he was a little curly haired kid when he was seven and he’s always been the exact same kid. He has the biggest smile on his face when he gets to the rink, he’s a great competitor and wants to be the best when he steps on the ice.”

Spitfires’ general manager Bill Bowler was thrilled to see Cristoforo still on the board when the club made its first-round selection at No. 22.

“Every time we went to the rink, he just won you over,” Bowler said. “He was the best defenceman on what I think was the best (minor-midget) team and we were thrilled he was staring at us when we picked.

“He’s going to be an excellent player for us. He’s something every team needs and that’s a guy that shows up every day and performs consistently.”

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Cristoforo posted 15 goals and 78 points in 56 games for the Junior Canadiens this past season, but offence is just part of his game.

“He’s a good skater with a good shot, good on the power player and better on the penalty kill,” Cisca said. “Whatever situation you need a defenceman to play, he can play it.

“You’re not going to find a kid that loves the game more than Anthony and we leaned on him big for controlling the dressing room and being a voice on the bench whether we were up a goal or down a goal.”

Cristoforo has already been down to Windsor twice to see the Spitfires play Sarnia in the first round and the game-clinching win against Kitchener in the second round.

“Since the day of the draft, when I got the call from that they’d like to draft me, you hear about the organization and how great the Windsor Spitfires are,” Cristoforo said. “To be part of that is surreal.

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“It’s a hockey town. Everyone has their gear, the fans are into the game and it felt like the NHL. When they say Windsor a hockey town, it’s a hockey town. Just walking in the rink, for me, it was pretty crazy. People calling your name and welcoming you to Windsor.”

With defencemen Louka Henault and Andrew Perrott aging out of the league after this season, there will be room on Windsor’s back end of Cristoforo next season. However, while he would like camp to be here already, he also knows there is work to do.

“Since the night of the draft, it was back to work and the work’s not over,” Cristoforo said. “I’m going to come to camp ready to work. Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’ll do for them. I’ll come in ready for anything.

“I know coming in next year, I’m going to be a sponge. So many great people and great players and I’m coming in and learning from everyone and that will help my growth on and off the ice.”

jpparker@postmedia.com

twitter.com/winstarparker

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