On paper, this was supposed to be a piece of cake for the Sarnia Sting. On the ice, the Windsor Spitfires have other plans.
The Spitfires and Sting started up their first-round 2018 OHL Playoffs series this weekend with a pair of games in Sarnia. The third-ranked Sting are built for power and longevity now, while the sixth-ranked Spitfires are built for the future.
Not sure the Spitfires got that memo – or care about it, either. The Spitfires are coming back to Windsor with a tied series and home-ice advantage.
Spitfires Give Friday Night Fright
As the teams hit the ice in Sarnia on Friday night, Sting fans were expecting domination. With a veteran-laden lineup and home-ice on their side, you can’t blame them.
On the other side, the Spitfires were a confident bunch. Head coach Trevor Letowski, a former Sting himself, had a game plan written up and ready to roll out. Spits fans were excited but cautious. A win would be nice but hoping for a close game was more realistic.
The Canucks’ prospect gave a masterful performance in the opening 20-minutes, turning aside 14 Sting shots. While the Spitfires put 11 shots on Sting goaltender Justin Fazio, the Sting clogged up the slot and the majority of the chances were low-quality.
As the second period got started, the Sting kept at DiPietro, hoping to find a crack, while the Spitfires remained patient. That patience paid off when William Sirman put the puck on Fazio from the corner and it squeezed by the veteran goaltender. The Spits were up 1-0.
Before the Spitfires could really enjoy that, veteran Cole Purboo tipped a puck past Fazio to make it 2-0 Spitfires.
A two-goal lead can be a scary thing and Sting forward Drake Rymsha showed why. Less than three minutes after Purboo’s goal, Rymsha finally solved DiPietro to cut the lead to 2-1 Spitfires.
The Spits would get that back before the end of the period, though, when Igor Larionov snapped a shot past Fazio to give Windsor the 3-1 lead after 40 minutes.
While Sting forward Anthony Salinitri found the net in the third, the Spitfires added goals from Purboo, Zach Shankar and Jake Smith to seal the deal. Spitfires take game one 6-2. DiPietro made 43-saves in the win, while Fazio recorded 24-saves.
Saturday Night’s Alright for Sting
While the Spitfires had the momentum coming into game two on Saturday night, they knew the Sting weren’t going back to Windsor without a fight.
Early in the game it became second verse, same as the first. DiPietro threw his body in front of everything the Sting could put on him in a wild opening period. Even with multiple power plays, and 20 shots, the Sting couldn’t get one past him.
On the other end, Fazio wasn’t getting much work, with just three Spitfires shots on him. However, they made one count. Purboo found the net again and gave the Spitfires a 1-0 lead after the first period.
The Spitfires held onto the lead through most of the second period before Sean Josling solved DiPietro. He tipped a point shot past DiPietro and the teams were tied at one. Just two minutes later, Hugo Leufvenius got a loose puck out front and put it past DiPietro. What was a 1-0 Spitfires lead had quickly become a 2-1 Sting advantage after two periods.
While the Spitfires managed 10 shots on Fazio in the third, the Sting were the ones to add to the scoresheet. Leufvenius and Jordan Kyrou each found the empty cage with DiPietro on the bench late in the period and the Sting come away with the 4-1 win.
Despite the loss, DiPietro made another 48-saves, while Fazio had 21-saves for the win.
The Spitfires know that this series is far from over, though. Smith told the Windsor Star that they just have to play Spitfires’ hockey.
“We’re going to leave this behind, take the positives, tweak the negatives and move forward,” Smith said.
“We had our chances. If we can tweak little things defensively, create more offence, we’re going to have a series.”
Return to the Rose City
By tying the series at one after the first two games, the Spitfires have regained home-ice advantage.
The series now shifts to the WFCU Centre in Windsor for games three and four. Game three is on Tues. night at 7:05 pm while game four is Thurs. night at 7:05 pm.
This break will be much-needed for the Spitfires, as they showed fatigue over the latter half of the game on Saturday night. They’re young and inexperienced, while the Sting showed considerable aggression in both games. That wears down a rebuilding team. Fortunately, the Spitfires were saved by their crease king as DiPietro was certainly the story both nights.
Make no mistake, though. This Spitfires’ team is confident. They know what they can do and showed it in Sarnia. Coming back to Windsor with a tied series can only benefit the Spitfires. They have a win under their belt and are coming back for some home cooking.
That said, they must take advantage of it. The Sting know that splitting the two games in Windsor creates a better situation for them. The Spits can’t afford to do that. Games three and four should be dandies.
You can get your tickets to both game three and four by checking out the Spitfires’ website.
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.