The Windsor Spitfires have had their share of goaltending issues over the last decade. As they go into the 2017-18 season, though, these issues might be enviable.
After years of goaltending questions, and few answers, the Spitfires enter this coming season with multiple goaltenders vying for a single roster spot. This is a new situation for the team but one that’s much better than the alternative.
Since the start of 2006-07, the Spitfires have gone through 15 goaltenders who made at least 20 appearances in a season or were brought in to be a starter. Of those goaltenders, just one – Andrew Engelage – had more than 100 appearances with 135. Spitfires starter Michael DiPietro is on his way with 80 games through two seasons.
After Engelage graduated in 2010, the Spitfires tried to find his replacement. Some showed promise while others were shown the door. Fans became leery of the carousel of goaltenders, and it was a ride that was tough to justify paying for.
In 2015, though, the Spitfires drafted local product Michael DiPietro in the second round. He had potential, but it was a wait-and-see situation. They also signed 18-year-old free agent goaltender Mario Culina out of Sault Ste. Marie of the NOJHL prior to the season.
DiPietro took control of the crease and smiled the entire time. Culina proved to be a valuable asset behind him. Once the dust settled, the two took the Spitfires into the postseason just a year after the team finished near the bottom of the OHL standings.
The 2016-17 season was much of the same – the DiPietro and Culina show. DiPietro was spectacular while Culina provided essential depth. However, training camp showed one player is knocking at the door and waiting for his chance to shine.
Brock Baier Bides Time
During the 2016 OHL Draft, the Spitfires selected 6’4” goaltender Brock Baier out of Stratford in the tenth round. While he had options elsewhere, he chose the Spitfires. During the 2016-17 training camp, Baier impressed the team and the fans with his play and he was rewarded with a contract a few months later.
He played for Listowel Junior B last season with a goals-against-average of 2.03 and save percentage of .933. His play impressed the Spitfires and they called him up during the season. While he didn’t see any game action, he was dressed on occasion in case they needed him. Windsor sent him back to Listowel before their playoff run and he was golden with a 1.67 GAA and save percentage of .943.
Baier is ready for the OHL, but are the Spitfires ready for him?
Three’s a Crowd
While Culina is eligible to return, rarely are 20-year-olds backup goaltenders. He’s more likely to head to school or Junior B. This doesn’t make things any easier for Windsor, though. Enter goaltenders Patrick O’Leary and Lucas Patton.
The Spitfires signed the 17-year-old Patton as a free agent out of Newmarket of the OJHL prior to the 2016-17 season. He spent the season with Chatham Junior B. Patton was someone the Spitfires thought highly of, and a solid 2017-18 training camp could do wonders for his stock.
In April 2017, the OHL had their first Under-18 Draft that featured players born in 1999 or 2000. From there, the Spitfires drafted the 16-year-old O’Leary out of the Mississauga Chargers OJHL. O’Leary will be given a long look at camp and a contract is possible with Junior B time. By being taken in the Under-18 Draft, he was given a second chance at the OHL. He won’t let that slip away. Here’s a clip of O’Leary practicing with Mississauga:
This gives Windsor three goaltenders vying for the backup role behind DiPietro, who just turned 18 in June. DiPietro, drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2017 NHL Draft, has two more seasons left in the OHL before he can move onto the AHL.
DiPietro’s Pipe Protege
While the starting role belongs to DiPietro, the backup position will be a great spot for whoever earns it. DiPietro set club records and was a rock during the 2017 Memorial Cup. Learning from him could prove invaluable for one goaltender as they look to jump-start their OHL career.
Baier, Patton and O’Leary are all capable of stepping up and earning a spot. While it appears to be Baier’s spot to lose, training camps have shown that if you impress you dress.
In 2009-10, the Spitfires lost goaltender Andrew Engelage to graduation. They brought in free agent 19-year-old Troy Passingham from the Vaughan OJHL. He stood out in camp and won a prominent role throughout the 2009-10 season. After leaving the OHL, he moved on to the CIS ranks.
Passingham is proof that a good camp can create opportunities and this is a chance that nobody is going to want to give up. The 2017-18 training camp will be one of the toughest crease battles the Spitfires have seen in years. It’s an issue the team will be glad to have.
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.