The COVID-19 pandemic has caught up to the Windsor Spitfires. After a first half that saw the club rise to the top of the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Western Division, the start of the unofficial second half has seen its first (possibly inevitable) speedbump. While they were able to play one game, the future is now uncertain and the schedule is tossed in the air.
When the 2019-20 OHL season was cancelled in March 2020, nobody knew when it would return. There were numerous attempts to get the 2020-21 season going but, despite efforts, COVID-19 case counts in Ontario and surrounding states were simply too high. The league finally got going in October for a full 2021-22 season, including fans, and everything seemed to be on the right track. However, teams slowly started having games reschedule because of league COVID protocols. Most of the cases were in the Eastern Conference but, just before Christmas, the West started feeling the effects. Despite all efforts, the Spitfires couldn’t avoid it and now we wait to see what the next steps are.
How will this all play out? Let’s dig in.
2021 Ends with COVID
You couldn’t have asked for a better finish before the Christmas break. The Spitfires had won six-straight, points in eight-straight, and had their veteran starter (Xavier Medina) back in goal. It all looked positive. However, something happened over their 10-day break that changed everything.
In their first game back, the Spitfires were set to hit the road to face the Kitchener Rangers when they got the news – eight players were out of the lineup, most because of league COVID-19 protocols. While they got rookie defenceman Bronson Ride back after he missed nearly a month with an injury, general manager Bill Bowler still had to call up forwards Ethan Martin (2021 OHL Draft) and Jackson McLlwain (2020 Under-18 Draft) from Jr. B just to hit 11 forwards.
Despite being shorthanded, the visitors grabbed a 2-1 lead after 20 thanks to forwards Pasquale Zito (Detroit Red Wings) and Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars). The teams exchanged goals in the second but it soon started to unravel for the Spitfires. Rangers’ veteran defenceman Arber Xhekaj tied it at three before his club planted three more for a 6-3 win. Just like that, the streak was snapped.
Snapping a winning streak is tough. However, it got tougher after the game when the Spitfires learned they were being placed on league COVID-19 protocol. Just like that, all team activities were stopped. That meant two games – a Thursday road contest with the Guelph Storm and New Year’s Eve game with the Flint Firebirds – were postponed. The Sarnia Sting were placed on the league’s protocol during the Christmas break so Sunday afternoon’s tilt in Sarnia was already postponed.
It’s the first time this season that the Spitfires have had issues with the virus and the health and safety of everyone in the organization is the top priority.
Spitfires Start 2022 with Uncertainty
While Sunday’s game was postponed, the Spitfires got some good news. The province reduced the quarantine time from 10 days to five so the club has the go-ahead to play.
They were scheduled to head to Michigan on Wednesday for a game against the Saginaw Spirit. However, the OHL had different plans. Head coach Marc Savard now takes his club up the 401 for the makeup game against the Storm. It’s still going to be a serious battle as the Storm find themselves second in the conference.
Who will be in the lineup, though? General manager Bill Bowler told the Windsor Star that they will decide near game-time.
“We would have to wait and see who’s feeling good (and free of symptoms) that morning and make a decision…,” he said (from ‘Nothing is certain for Spitfires even with team scheduled to return to play on Wednesday’, Windsor Star – 1/4/22)
Following the game, the Spitfires hop the bus and head north for back-to-back games against the division-leading Soo Greyhounds. The clubs have split their first two meetings, each winning 4-3. It should be an outstanding weekend of hockey leading up to the OHL Trade Deadline on Monday. More to come on that!
The club also got some more good news on Tuesday as Johnston was named the OHL’s Player of the Month for December after posting 19 points in eight games!
With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in Ontario, take nothing for granted. Savard said it best to CTV Windsor on Tuesday – “You don’t know what to expect at any given time … Something can happen so you gotta just try and enjoy each moment for what it is right now.”
When everything can change in an instant, you enjoy the ride as it comes.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.