It doesn’t matter how good an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) team is, they’re going to lose a game or two during a season. The Windsor Spitfires learned that lesson this past weekend but took it in stride, got back up, fought like superheroes, and now get ready for a tough start to March.
The Spitfires have been in contention in the OHL’s Western Conference for most of the season but, on occasion, they’ll have bad outings and they know it. The key is to pick yourself up, learn from the mistakes, and get those vital points during the next game. They’ve established a strong “never quit” identity and it’s helped them on many nights. Now, as we enter the final full month of the regular season, the club has to prove to themselves that losing here and there can really benefit them when it matters the most. It starts with a trio of tough weekend games on the horizon.
Let’s unpack it all…
Spitfires Learn Lessons
When your season is full of uncertainty – a new coach, significant roster turnover, and COVID-19 issues – some nights are going to be tough and lessons will have to be learned.
Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard brought his club into last weekend facing a pair of teams that could be first-round opponents – at home to the Kitchener Rangers and on the road against the Guelph Storm. The Rangers had won four-of-five meetings this season, while the Storm have lost all three contests. It didn’t play out like it should have, though.
Thursday night, the Rangers came into the WFCU Centre and it ended up being classic pond hockey. They exchanged leads throughout the game until the visitors grabbed a 4-2 advantage at the midway mark. That never-quit attitude came out, though, as the Spitfires scored four unanswered for a 6-4 lead and eventual 6-5 win. The clubs combined for 57 shots; not a pretty win but you take the two points.
Friday night against the Storm was a much different story. What started optimistically, finished as a true lesson.
Pasquale Zito (Detroit Red Wings) opened the scoring for the Spitfires but it was a complete disaster from there. The Storm scored a pair early in the second then three more before the buzzer sounded to end the period up 5-1. It was an unstoppable tidal wave. While the visitors refused to quit, there wasn’t much they could do. The Storm weren’t giving up one, let alone five, but instead added two more for a 7-1 final score.
Every season has one or two games where you’re going to get taken to school. The only solution was to take their frustrations out on Sunday against the Sarnia Sting.
This was almost a perfect opportunity. The Sting were coming off back-to-back blowout losses against the Flint Firebirds and had beaten the Spitfires 6-2 at the WFCU Centre in their last meeting. Take out frustrations and turn the tide.
It was Superhero Night at the rink, an annual tradition that started in 2017 when the Spitfires teamed up with the “Fight Like Mason” Foundation. The club wore superhero-themed jerseys, played theme songs all night, and encouraged fans to wear their favourite costumes.
From the opening puck drop, you knew the Spitfires weren’t going to let their little superheroes down. They pounced on Sting goaltender Ben Gaudreau and refused to let up. The home side scored three in the opening frame and two more in the second period before coasting to a 5-1 win. That included 6-foot-6, 190-pound rookie defenceman Bronson Ride scoring his first OHL goal.
The Spitfires’ second-round pick in 2021, Ride was all smiles after the game. He said his teammates knew he scored before he did.
“I didn’t know it went in at first,” he said. “Everyone started yelling so I was watching it trickle in behind the goalie…”
A 5-1 thrashing was the response the club needed. They knew they had to be better. Savard said that Friday’s loss hurt but you grow from it.
“It’s not a bad thing, once in a while, to get a good whoppin’ on your team,” he said. “I know it hurts at the time, but that’s what happens, and we responded. I was really proud of our guys. Every guy brought it.”
You’re going to lose games on occasion. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, though, they took it to the Sting and showed that “no quit” attitude they’ll need if they want to make noise in the playoffs this season.
Tough March Knights
The first weekend of March is going to be anything but a lamb for the Spitfires. Not only will it be a busy three days but their opponents will be some of the toughest of the season.
Friday night, the club heads to London to face Brett Brochu and the London Knights. The Spitfires beat them 5-2 three weeks ago at the WFCU Centre in an emotional, physical, playoff-style game, but they have had their number all season.
Saturday night, the Spitfires return home to face the Soo Greyhounds, who are just three points ahead of them (with four more games played). The home side has won the last four meetings by a combined score of 22-11, though two games went into extra time. If Savard’s club wants the division title, this is as close to “must-win” as you’ll get right now.
The weekend wraps up on Sunday afternoon at home with the rematch against the Knights.
While there is still a month to go in the regular season, no team wants to give away two points or any mental edge. The Spitfires will be heading out for a multi-game road trip shortly so, with a 17-7-0-1 record at home, banking points at the WFCU Centre will be the goal. Home ice could rest on it.
On two positive notes, Spitfires’ captain Will Cuylle will return to the lineup on Friday following a three-game suspension. He was given a five-minute major for Boarding against the Saginaw Spirit last Monday (Family Day). They’ll also see more fans in the stands as the Province of Ontario has lifted all capacity restrictions as of Mar. 1. Get your tickets while you can!