When life is uncertain, we try to cherish every opportunity. That’s the approach the Windsor Spitfires are taking into 2022 as the COVID-19 pandemic is still doing a number on the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). As games continue to be postponed and rescheduled, the club is doing everything they can to earn the points when they’re available, including four big ones up north last weekend.
The Spitfires had a lot on their plate last week with a pair of games in frigid Northern Ontario and a pair of games coming up that were sandwiched around the ever-popular OHL trade deadline. While general manager Bill Bowler took care of business, acquiring three talents for a playoff run, his team was busy lighting the lamp in the great white north. However, despite the short-term optimism, COVID-19 refuses to go away and it’s still affecting the club.
How is everything shaking down? Here’s a look.
Spitfires Dominate Greyhounds
This matchup was circled on the calendar for a long time. When the OHL created a conference-only schedule for 2021-22, the Spitfires found themselves heading up north to Sault Ste. Marie for a pair of early-2022 games. The Greyhounds have been dominant for most of the season, but a surge from Marc Savard’s club brought them within reach of first place.
The clubs split their first two meetings, each winning 4-3. But this set was a little different. The games were scheduled for Friday and Saturday night but COVID protocols pushed the Friday game to Sunday afternoon.
The clubs went toe-to-toe on Saturday in a physical opening 40 minutes. The difference was a goal from Spitfires’ captain Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) late in the second period to give the visitors a 3-2 lead. That seemed to spark them. Matthew Maggio added a pair in the third, while veteran goaltender Xavier Medina shut the door for a convincing 5-2 win.
The Greyhounds weren’t going to be pushovers at home, though. On Sunday afternoon, veteran Cole MacKay opened the scoring less than a minute into the game, which set off a flurry of offence as the clubs battled to a 3-3 tie after 20. However, it was all Spitfires after that. They dominated, scoring three more in the second, and added another four in the final 20 minutes for a commanding 10-4 win.
Altogether, 12 Spitfires registered a point, led by Cuylle, Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars), and Matthew Maggio’s four-point efforts. Johnston finished the weekend with eight points en route to being named the OHL’s Player of the Week. The wins pulled the Spitfires within two points of the Greyhounds for first in the division with three games in hand.
Sting and Firebirds Await
When they got back to the WFCU Centre in Windsor, the Spitfires were supposed to get ready for three games this week that included a home game against the Guelph Storm and road games with the Sarnia Sting and Saginaw Spirit. That’s not happening, though. Earlier this week, the league postponed the game against the Storm because of league COVID protocols. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, the game against the Spirit was postponed, as well.
Have no fear. The Sting game is still scheduled for Friday night – as of now. While the Spitfires have won all three games this season in Sarnia, the home side is in a tight battle for the final playoff spot in the conference. They won’t give up points easily.
On top of that, the postponed New Year’s Eve game at the WFCU Centre between the Spitfires and Flint Firebirds will now be played on Sun., Jan. 16 at 5:05 PM. The Spitfires have won all three meetings by a 20-8 score, though the last one was a 7-6 barnburner for the ages. Neither club can afford to take this for granted. Unfortunately, it’ll be a quiet WFCU Centre as fans are still not allowed at Ontario rinks due to provincial COVID-19 regulations, which are supposed to last until Jan. 26.
In preparation for this week, Bowler made a few roster moves, too. Goaltender Kyle Downey (2020 OHL Draft) and forward Wylie Birkett (2020 OHL Draft) are now with LaSalle Vipers Jr. B, while goaltender Matt Tovell was sent to the Vipers before being traded to the Hawkesbury Hawks Jr. A club near Ottawa, ON.
Game time on Friday is 7:05 PM.
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.