Spitfires Weekly: Chaotic West, Injuries & 3-Game Week

As we near the two-month mark of the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, the Windsor Spitfires are slowly finding their identity. We’re seeing a team that will battle until the final buzzer on most nights. However, while they’ve been an entertaining team, injury issues are popping up. During a busy stretch, that’s the last thing they need.

Coming into the season, the Spitfires were ranked eighth in the CHL Top-10, mostly because of their potential. They struggled at the start, though; a combination of significant roster turnover and two new coaches meant plenty of adjustment all around. While they certainly won’t win every night, they compete and that’s helping them create their long-term identity. This past weekend, they faced three tough divisional games and had to deal with injuries on top of injuries. It’s not a fun recipe but something they need to face.

Let’s break it all down…

Otters Make Life Difficult

After a pair of two-game weekends, the Spitfires came into this past weekend ready for battle. It was the start of six games in 10 days against some tough opponents. While it’s too early to say anything is a “must-win,” you don’t want to give away any points. It was a test that head coach Marc Savard and his staff needed to ace.

Andy Delmore, Marc Savard, and Jerrod Smith
Windsor Spitfires’ coaches Andy Delmore (L), Marc Savard (C), and Jerrod Smith (R) in September 2021. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Thursday night, the Spitfires welcomed the Erie Otters to town. The visitors are last in the conference but love being the thorn in everyone’s side. That’s exactly what happened on this night. Rookie Kyle Downey got the start for the home side but quickly found himself on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

The Otters jumped out to 1-0, 2-1, and 4-2 leads during the opening 40 minutes. No matter what the Spitfires threw at them, the visitors kept pressing and making life difficult. That’s how you need to play to move up in the standings, though.

In the third period, the Spitfires thought they had the answer with a pair of momentum-swinging goals before the two-minute mark. It was tied at four and the crowd was alive. What could go wrong? Back-to-back Otters’ power-play goals! That sucked the life out of everything in the rink as the visitors cruised to a 7-4 win.

Firebird Frenzy

The Spitfires couldn’t let that affect them, though, as Saturday and Sunday were a home-and-home with the Flint Firebirds. Saturday night, they headed to Michigan and saw history being made in the process.

Goaltender Matt Tovell got his first OHL start after being called up from LaSalle Jr. B. He replaced Xavier Medina, who was injured the previous weekend. The Spitfires rallied around their third-stringer, firing shot-after-shot on the Firebirds. It worked as they opened the scoring and never looked back. The visitors got Tovell his first OHL shutout with a 7-0 win. It was a near-perfect script.

On Sunday, the Spitfires rewarded Tovell with a start at home in the re-match. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well… at least for him. The Firebirds scored early, scored often, and managed six goals by late in the second period. While it was a defensive collapse, he was pulled for Downey. Fortunately, the home side got a pair of goals from New York Rangers’ prospect Will Cuylle, plus one from Dallas Stars’ prospect Wyatt Johnston to make it 6-3 after 40. Momentum is a strange beast, right?

Related: Windsor Spitfires’ 2021-22 Breakout Candidates

The Spitfires took that momentum and put 15 shots on goaltender Luke Cavallin in the third period. Captain Cuylle completed his hat-trick five minutes into the period to cut the lead to 6-4. The crowd sensed that maybe a comeback was possible? That’s when veteran Kyle McDonald took over, scoring his ninth and 10th goals of the season to tie it at six! The crowd went wild; this was actually happening!

Fittingly, they required a shootout. That’s where Johnston and veteran Daniel D’Amico both lit the lamp while Downey made both of his stops. The Spitfires take the unthinkable 7-6 win.

Spitfires Deal with Depleted Lineup

While the wins were huge, they came at a cost.

Coming into last weekend, the Spitfires were without Medina and forward Oliver Peer due to injuries. After these three games, the list continues to grow.

The club lost defencemen Daniil Sobolev and James Jodoin on Saturday, along with defenceman Bronson Ride and forward Matthew Maggio on Sunday. Ride hit the end boards hard and grabbed his arm in a significant amount of pain. He tried to shake it off but soon went to the room and didn’t return. Maggio, who’s having a breakout season, left the game with a lower-body injury.

The forwards will also need even more help as 2021 fourth overall pick forward Ethan Miedema is off to Ottawa for the 2021 Capital City Challenge. The one-time event replaces the annual World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and runs until the first week in December. As a result, Bowler has made some moves to shore up his offense.

Ethan Miedema, Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ forward Ethan Miedema (19) is off to Ottawa for a unique Under-17 tournament. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

The Spitfires recalled forwards Jackson McLlwain (2020 Under-18 Draft) and Ethan Martin (2021 OHL Draft) for some much-needed bodies. McLlwain has three goals and nine points in 20 games for the Komoka Kings Jr. B, while Martin has three goals and six points in 16 games for the Stratford Warriors Jr. B. The club also recalled defenceman Spencer Lecot from LaSalle Jr. B last week

Depth has been an issue almost the entire season but bringing in two forwards certainly eases the tension a bit. Martin, McLlwain, and Lecot give the club 11 available forwards and six defencemen. Peer’s return is likely imminent but still unknown.

Knights and Spirit Come Calling

The new call-ups will have to get adjusted quickly as the Spitfires prepare for a busy three-game week.

On Wednesday night, the high-flying London Knights come into town and that’s never an easy task. They sit comfortably in first place in the league with just four losses in 18 games and are 2-0 against the Spitfires this season (4-3 and 5-1 wins).

Dale Hunter, London Knights, OHL
Dale Hunter and the London Knights are always contenders in the OHL’s Western Conference. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

After that, the Spitfires face the Saginaw Spirit in another home-and-home battle. This time, it starts Friday night at the WFCU Centre and finishes on Saturday in mid-Michigan. It’s the first time the clubs have faced each other since before the COVID-19 pandemic started and the Spirit are right on the Spitfires’ tails in the standings.

Strangely, the Spirit was also a part of a massive comeback at the WFCU Centre. In November 2019, they were up 3-2 on the Spitfires heading into the third period. The home side scored four times for a 6-3 lead. However, the visitors scored three goals in the final 100 seconds to tie it at six before winning in overtime. Needless to say, this coming weekend will be worth watching.

Puck drop on Wednesday and Friday is 7:30 PM

Sign up for our regular 'Prospects Newsletter' for all the latest.