Windsor Spitfires: 5 Stories to Watch in Second Half – 2021-22

The 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) trade deadline is now in the rearview mirror. With some new faces on board and the rest of the team starting to relax a bit, the Windsor Spitfires push forward into what’s likely to be a very busy second half. While the standings are vital, there are a handful of stories that are worth watching as the season pushes forward.

Since the Christmas break ended, the Spitfires have been surrounded by plenty of uncertainty and chaos. Most of their games have been postponed due to league COVID-19 protocols (with them or another team), creating a guessing game on when players will hit the ice. On top of that, general manager Bill Bowler was busy wheeling-and-dealing, which creates a bit of anxiety in the room. However, with the deadline passing last Monday afternoon, they can focus on moving ahead with their schedule and the intriguing stories that come along with it.

Let’s dive into five stories that you’ll want to watch as the second half gets underway.

5. Wyatt Johnston/Will Cuylle Chemistry

This is the duo the Spitfires have been waiting for!

When the OHL shut down in 2019-20 (COVID-19), forwards Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) and Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) were going in opposite directions. Johnston was a rookie and on the verge of breaking out. Cuylle was a sophomore who had trouble taking his game to the next level. Over the next year-and-a-half, both players got drafted, and something just clicked.

After an impressive outing at the U18 World Championship, Johnston came to the Spitfires’ 2021-22 camp in beast mode. Nobody could stop him, and he showed why he was worthy of the sixth overall pick in 2019. Cuylle arrived shortly after from the Rangers’ with new energy and drive, looking to bounce back from a disappointing 42 points in 62 games as a sophomore (up just one point from his rookie season).

Wyatt Johnston Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ forward Wyatt Johnston makes the game look easy. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Head coach Marc Savard put them together on the top line, and they haven’t looked back. Johnston’s game is on another level, showing intelligence and creativity that few can match. Cuylle’s become the power forward everyone wanted, using his size to win battles and then a pro-shot to hover around a goal per game.

To date, Johnston has 60 points in 31 games, while Cuylle has 36 points in 26 games. While the second half will be a bigger challenge, these two will lead the way for the Spitfires.

4. Perrott, Currie, & Onuska Adjust to New Team

Bowler was busy prior to the deadline, bringing in goaltender Matt Onuska from the London Knights, Owen Sound Attack defenceman Andrew Perrott, and North Bay Battalion forward Joshua Currie. It was a busier deadline than anyone expected, but nobody is really complaining.

While it would be great to see all three come out of the gates running, it’s not realistic. They’re going to need time to get into their new surroundings. How they adjust over the long haul will be one of the keys to the Spitfires’ second half.

Onuska, 19, was the backup to Knights’ stud Brett Brochu, who (along with Cuylle) was a part of Team Canada at the 2022 World Juniors. He didn’t see much action because Brochu has been outstanding, so this is an opportunity to show what he has.

Perrott, 20, is a 6-foot, 215-pound crease-clearing defenceman who is having a career season with 29 points in 27 games. He’s also tough as nails, which is never a bad style to play in front of the Windsor faithful (ahem, Windsor Arena anyone?).

Andrew Perrott Owen Sound Attack
Newest Windsor Spitfires defenceman Andrew Perrott. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Currie, 19, was brought in from the Battalion, and the 6-foot-2, 170-pound winger is having a breakout season with 18 points and 31 penalty minutes in 32 games so far. In his first few games, he’s already shown speed, grit, and a willingness to stand up for his teammates. Like Perrott, he’ll fit right in.

Nobody is expecting domination from the three new talents. However, they will be expected to provide grit, offense, and a calming nature in the crease (Onuska) as the season progresses. It’ll be fun to see how they adjust to a new team.

3. The Xavier Medina Experience

This will be a vital part of the Spitfires’ second half.

After battling rookie Kari Piiroinen in 2019-20, goaltender Xavier Medina, 19, came into 2021-22 with full intentions of taking over the crease. Piiroinen headed home to Finland when COVID-19 started, so the plan was to have Medina and rookie goaltender Kyle Downey (2020 second-round) take over this season.

Xavier Medina, Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ goaltender Xavier Medina needs a big second half of 2021-22. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, Medina struggled in the preseason, which carried over to the regular season. He tried to find his footing, but the club gave Downey some starts to see how he would react. While he had his shining moments, it was clear that the rookie needed to be brought along slowly.

Related: In-Depth Look: Windsor Spitfires’ 2020 OHL Draft Results

That didn’t happen, though. Medina went down with an injury in mid-November, forcing Downey and third-stringer Matt Tovell to take over. That went as well as everyone expected; the two showed well at times but struggled just as often.

The veteran returned in December and appeared to have turned a corner (3.03 goals-against-average and .892 save percentage). While there are concerns about his health and consistency, Medina will get the majority of starts and see if he can lead this team to a division title. The talent is there; it just needs to come together. If not, Onuska and Downey (sent to LaSalle Vipers Jr. B) are waiting in the wings.

2. First Rounders Building Confidence

Being a first-round pick in any league is tough; expectations are high, and you want to perform every night. Now, add a global pandemic and uncertainty in the schedule, and it’s an entirely new level.

This is the case for Spitfires’ 2020 first-round pick Ryan Abraham and 2021 first-rounder Ethan Miedema. It was tough to have the entire 2019-20 season off because of the global shutdown, but they’re slowly finding their way in the OHL.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Abraham did it all with the Compuware 15U AAA in 2019-20, scoring nine goals and 23 points along with 32 PIM in 12 games. He’s a ball of energy who plays similar to Boston Bruins’ agitator Brad Marchand with that crash the crease, in your face style. It’s starting to work in the OHL as the youngster has five goals and 18 points in 30 games… along with a dust-up.

Ryan Abraham, Windsor Spitfires
Rookie forward Ryan Abraham is becoming a fan favorite for the Windsor Spitfires. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Miedema is a different beast altogether. The fourth overall pick in 2021, he had 44 goals in 42 games for Quinte Red Devils U15 AAA in 2019-20 and was one of the prizes of the draft. At 6-foot-4, 201, he’s creative with quick instincts and a sneaky shot. Like Johnston in 2019-20, he’s slowly adjusting to the OHL pace but starting to find that game-to-game consistency with 19 points in 28 games. With McDonald gone, he’s moved up in the lineup and seeing some time on the power-play.

It hasn’t been an easy 24-months for Abraham and Miedema but, as they slowly build their confidence, they’ll be showing the rest of the league why they were first-round picks. This will be fun to watch develop.

1. Spitfires Stay Healthy

Unfortunately, the biggest story so far post-deadline continues to be the COVID-19 pandemic and the schedule.

Before the Christmas break, the Spitfires got through their schedule without a postponement. However, life happened over the holidays and, when they returned, several players were out because of the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Then the club itself had to postpone all team activities because of the protocol. Going even further, teams throughout the league are dealing with their own protocols, creating a very day-to-day situation.

At this point, the Spitfires should have played nine games since Christmas. However, almost half of them have been postponed to a later date. The OHL has stated that they want to play the full schedule, even though it may mean some chaotic weeks for teams down the road. The coaching staff has to pace the team, not overworking while not taking things too easy. It’ll be a tricky but necessary balance.

Andy Delmore, Marc Savard, and Jerrod Smith
Windsor Spitfires’ coaches Andy Delmore (L), Marc Savard (C), and Jerrod Smith (R) have a big challenge in front of them. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

The health and safety of the players and organizations are paramount. With COVID-19 variants causing cases and hospitalizations to grow exponentially in Ontario, there’s a lot of uncertainty around the schedule. It’s a day-to-day thing that may not change for a while. When they are played, though, take nothing for granted. Enjoy the games and soak it all in. Hopefully, everyone can get healthy, stay healthy, and things can get back to normal soon.