OHL Playoff Preview: Spitfires vs Knights

The Battle of the 401 is about to see another chapter unfold. The Windsor Spitfires and the London Knights; one of the most storied rivalries in the OHL takes place as a Western Conference first round matchup.

The top-seeded Knights beat the Saginaw Spirit on Saturday night to clinch the conference. The Spitfires got a point on Friday night against the Sarnia Sting to clinch the eighth seed. It sets up a playoff battle that has numerous chapters over dozens of seasons.

The last time they faced off in the playoffs, the Knights beat the Spitfires in seven games in the first round in 2017. The Spitfires went on to win the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup as hosts. Let’s take a look at how these teams stack up in what is sure to be an interesting series.

The Vitals:

#1 London Knights v. #8 Windsor Spitfires

London – 46-15-6-1 – 99 points
Windsor – 25-33-5-5 – 60 points

Goals-For and Goals-Against:
London – 299-211
Windsor – 216-257

Windsor – 1-5
London – 5-1

Leading Scorers:

Kevin Hancock 52 goals, 55 assists, 107 points – 70 games
Connor McMichael – 36 goals, 36 assists, 72 points – 67 games
Liam Foudy 36 goals, 32 assists, 68 points – 62 games

Liam Foudy
Liam Foudy, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Cole Purboo – 29 goals, 26 assists, 56 points – 68 games
Curtis Douglas – 27 goals, 26 assists, 53 points – 66 games
Jean-Luc Foudy – 8 goals, 41 assists, 49 points – 63 games

Windsor Spitfires Cole Purboo
Windsor Spitfires’ veteran Cole Purboo (Dave Jewell/THW)

What Do the Knights Bring?

With a unique combination of youth and experience, the Knights powered their way to the top of the Western Conference. Dale Hunter’s crew was second in the conference in goals scored and, with 14 players having at least 30 points, they’ve got the depth to wear teams down.

Sniper Kevin Hancock was brought in from the Owen Sound Attack at the trade deadline and he joins Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy, Chicago Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist, Edmonton Oilers prospect Evan Bouchard and Ottawa Senators prospect Alex Formenton as a group that does serious damage.

Alex Formenton, OHL, London Knights, 2017 NHL Draft
Alex Formenton will be a key for the London Knights in the post-season. (Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Their youth has also stepped up. Sophomore forward Connor McMichael had a breakout season with 72 points in 68 games and is a threat to score every time he touches the ice. Rookie forward Antonio Stranges added a 34-point campaign, including five points in six games against the Spitfires.

In net, veteran Joseph Raaymakers had 30 wins and a goals-against-average (GAA) of 2.95. When he’s not in net, though, backup Jordan Kooy had 16 wins and a GAA of 2.87. Kooy is poised to take over next season and either goaltender is capable of stealing a game.

Joseph Raaymakers London Knights
Joseph Raaymakers of the London Knights. (Photo by Terry Wilson OHL Images.)

Since the Christmas Break, the Knights went 3-0 against the Spitfires, outscoring them 22-11. They won’t make life easy for the Spitfires, regardless of which arena they’re playing in.

What Do the Spitfires Bring?

What this rebuilding club lacks in experience, they make up for in heart. Even if they get behind in a game, they tend to finish it with gusto. They were tied for fourth in the league with 15 games going into overtime or a shootout.

Up front, the Spitfires feature 6-foot-9 Dallas Stars prospect Curtis Douglas, 2018 third-overall pick Will Cuylle and 2018 10th-overall pick Jean-Luc Foudy. Douglas had a career-high 27 goals, Cuylle added 26 goals and Foudy led the roster with 41 assists. In fact, this trio was on a line together for much of the second half and showed dynamic potential.

Windsor Spitfires Curtis Douglas
Windsor Spitfires’ forward Curtis Douglas (Dave Jewell/THW)

They also have veteran Cole Purboo, who had a career-high 29 goals, and sophomore Daniel D’Amico, who broke out with 46 points in 67 games.

On the backend, Connor Corcoran reached 10 goals for the first time in his career while Nathan Staios had a career season with 29 points in 64 games. While those two were the main producers, we can’t forget about the sheriff. Sean Allen was brought in over the summer from the Oshawa Generals. He led the Spitfires in penalty minutes and his style could give the Spitfires a boost in a rough series.

In goal, Colton Incze and Kari Piiroinen have done the trick since Michael DiPietro was traded in December. Incze has had the majority of the starts, but Piiroinen has allowed just six goals on his last 92 shots to prove he’s worthy of more ice time. They’re not an experienced duo, but they’re showing real promise at crunch time.

Kari Piiroinen Windsor Spitfires
Kari Piiroinen has found his groove in net for the Windsor Spitfires. (Dave Jewell/THW)

Despite their struggles against the Knights this season, the Spitfires are an entertaining team with plenty of optimism for the future. They’re going to learn a lot about themselves over the next two weeks, regardless of what happens.

The Prediction:

While it would be an interesting story to see an eighth seed knock off the top seed, the Knights may simply be too much to handle. With several high-end NHL prospects, where this could be their last chance at a run, the Knights are built for the long haul. The Spitfires are just finding their way and looking to learn the playoff ropes.

This isn’t to say the Spitfires will roll over. Their veterans have come through in the clutch and there’s no quit in that dressing room. If they play the way they’re capable, stealing a game at home isn’t out of the question. Any more than that, though, is a long shot. Knights in five.

Spitfires v. Knights First-Round Schedule:

  • Game 1 Fri., March 22 at London – 7:30 p.m.
    Game 2 – Sun., March 24 at London – 2:00 p.m.
    Game 3 – Tues., March 26 at Windsor – 7:05 p.m.
    Game 4 – Thurs., March 28 at Windsor – 7:05 p.m.
    Game 5 – Fri., March 29 at London – 7:30 p.m.
    Game 6 – Sun., March 31 at Windsor – 2:00 p.m.
    Game 7 – Tues., April 2 at London – 7:00 p.m.

Tickets for games at the WFCU Centre are now available, as are the games at the Budweiser Gardens in London.