Barn Break: Steve Riolo
“I didn’t play hockey, but hockey became a big part of my life. I was born and raised in Italy and came here when I was 18 years old. Buying the Windsor Spitfires was just basically a business decision and a decision to keep the team in Windsor. Having an OHL hockey team is pretty important for the city.”
When Steve Riolo decided to take on the Windsor Spitfires that also meant taking on the Windsor Arena. The Barn was an old building but having the Spitfires in Windsor made us part of something bigger. The team was worth hanging onto, not just for Riolo, but for everyone in Windsor.
Walking through the front doors of the barn was a pretty magical thing. Like being instantly transported back in time. There’s this energy you feel when you push your way through the tiny ticket booth into the shallow dark hallways of the arena. Like you were part of something bigger than yourself.
When asked about his eighteen years with the team, Riolo smiled as he took a minute to think about all the wonderful moments. But it wasn’t just good memories. There were many difficult moments too. Riolo remembered the days before the roof was replaced when a thunderstorm could mean raindrops falling inside the building. It was stressful as an owner of the team when you needed to put out buckets to catch rain, but that’s what they did. And life went on. Another time, the Zamboni quit in the middle of the rink and the players had to push it off the ice. These moments can be laughed about now, but they remind us that it was not always easy. In life, we take the good with the bad.
“Windsor’s a hockey fan. People love their Jr hockey. For a lot of people, it was a family night out.”
It was a family night out, but not exactly what you expected. Watching hockey inside the barn was spectacular. It was like experiencing things for the first time. Hearing the players skates tear through the ice, the smell of fresh popcorn, and the roar of the crowd after a whistle, the barn had a way of captivating the audience.
“There are a lot of memories in that building. A lot of good hockey players.”
There were memories that were special and memories that were not, but the talent was always world-class. For Riolo, the biggest moment came when the two-way defencemen from Windsor, skating for the Spitfires, was drafted to the NHL. Ed Jovanovski was selected first overall. “It’s a big moment when your player gets drafted to the National Hockey League, and there were a lot of Spirfires that were drafted high in the NHL draft. Todd Warriner, Cory Stillman, D.J. Smith, Steve Ott, Time Gleason and Jason Spezza just to name a few.”
But being part of something big, isn’t always about the big moments. Riolo spoke about other hockey legends. Players and coaches who walked through those same shallow hallways, but there was one last story that was most important. This story began at the concession stand when a young man, a Spits fan, fell in love with the young girl working there. In this story the girl turns out to be Riolo’s daughter, and the boy, his future son-in-law. The barn was never a romantic place. It didn’t need to be. The romance came from the people who gathered there and the memories they made. For the young couple, their story together begins at the barn.
So, what happens now?
“I come from a country where old buildings are kept as historical. I believe the old barn should be kept as a historical building in Windsor, because it was one of the first arenas in North America and because it is almost 100 years old. It has a lot of history. It’s a beautiful building… it’s a beautiful building to watch a game.”
Keeping the team in Windsor was an important situation for The Barn and for the people living in the neighbourhoods that surround it. It is not just a beautiful building to watch a game, it’s the place where people go to feel like they are part of it.
“If it would be up to me, I would sit down with them and make a deal.”