Four months after a gruelling Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoff battle, the Windsor Spitfires turned the page this weekend, opening their 2022-23 season. It was a look into the future while also honouring the past.
Losing Game 7 of the OHL Championship wasn’t easy but it created a building block for this season’s roster. The veterans know how to win, and the first years are eager to show they can help get the Spitfires back to the dance. It’s a redemption story that will take time to write. The first chapter started on Saturday night as the club took on the Sarnia Sting in their home opener. Despite the 2-1 loss, there are three key takeaways to draw on from this game.
3 Takeaways from Home Opener
1. Onuska Continues to be Spitfires’ Rock
Whether the Spitfires go for another title this season, rebuild the roster, or find a happy medium, they’ll need a strong goaltender to help lead the way. Mathias Onuska, 20, showed last season that he can be that guy. Despite battling an injury during training camp last month, he found his way back and proved he is ready for a full season.
While he battled 20-year-old Xavier Medina for the starter’s role throughout camp, the club gave Onuska the nod on opening night, and it looks like he’s already in mid-season form. With newly acquired sophomore Joseph Costanzo backing him up, the veteran made it look easy on Saturday. His teammates showed some rust early on, but he bailed them out when needed and looked in control, stopping 26 of 28 shots. The only two blemishes were a re-directed point shot in the third period and a two-on-one game-winner in overtime from Ty Voit (Toronto Maple Leafs). Despite the loss, head coach Marc Savard recognized Onuska’s presence.
“He calms everybody down,” Savard said. “He was fantastic tonight and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat from the playoffs.”
Losing 2-1 wasn’t the result Onuska wanted, but his consistency and confidence were clearly a bright light. The team isn’t not going to win every night, but if he can bring his 2021-22 self to the rink on a regular basis, the Spitfires will be in good shape.
2. Spitfires Name Preliminary Alternates
In past seasons, the Spitfires have named their leadership group well before the season begins. However, in those cases, they had their full roster returning. That’s not the case this season.
After losing all but one of their captains/alternates from 2021-22, the Spitfires enter this campaign with a bit of a wait-and-see approach. Forwards Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) and Matthew Maggio (New York Islanders), and defenceman Michael Renwick, should all get a letter this season. However, Johnston and Maggio are still in the pros, while Renwick sat out the opener with an injury. The club has now had a chance to test out a few players in leadership roles.
Wearing an ‘A’ during the opening ceremony were 18-year-old forward Ryan Abraham, 19-year-old forward Alex Christopoulos, and 19-year-old forward Jacob Maillet. All three bring a strong presence to the rink, which could really benefit the team.
Abraham is a smaller (5-foot-8, 168-pound) waterbug who can score and agitate with the best of them. Christopoulos came to the club last season from the North Bay Battalion and has been the quiet, lead-by-example type. Maillet was brought in from the Guelph Storm last November and is another lead-by-example player who, like Christopoulos, is eager for a bigger role.
There’s little doubt that Renwick will get a letter once he’s healthy. Who gets the captaincy? That’s to be determined and likely dependent on Johnston and Maggio’s status.
3. Morneau Makes History
After any NHL draft, most expect the top picks to perform right away, at some level, while anything you can get from the later rounds is a nice bonus. That hasn’t stopped Spitfires’ rookie (and Windsor native), Noah Morneau, though. Selected in the 15th round in 2020, he’s clawed his way to the OHL and is making the most of it.
Entering training camp, there were a few spots open for new players. Morneau spent 2021-22 with the LaSalle Vipers, the Spitfires’ Jr. B affiliate, about a half-hour drive from the WFCU Centre in Windsor. In 39 games, he showed very well with 16 goals and 45 points and was able to carry that offensive instinct into training camp.
He impressed Spitfires’ management so much that they gave him a shot and now he’s proving them right. In the third period, he took an “unbelievable pass” from Maillet and beat Sting veteran Ben Gaudreau for his first OHL goal; a short-handed one, at that.
“It makes me feel really good,” Morneau said after the game. “I would have liked it if we got a win to add to it, but it still feels good to get the monkey off the back early.”
Morneau becomes the first Spitfires’ 15th-round pick to play a game since defenceman Saverio Posa did it in 2009-10. The road to the OHL can be bumpy, but the 6-foot, 160-pound forward has shown that commitment and drive can go a long way.
Spitfires Raising Western Conference Title Banner
While the Spitfires are focused on the future, they’ll pay a tribute to their past on Thursday night. The club will raise their 2021-22 OHL Western Conference Championship banner to the WFCU Centre rafters before their 7:05 p.m. game against former Spitfires defenceman Dylan Robinson and the Sudbury Wolves.
It’s the first banner raising since their 2017 Memorial Cup banner. It’s also the first game between the Spitfires and an Eastern Conference opponent since the Kingston Frontenacs on Mar. 1, 2020, just two weeks before COVID-19 shut down the OHL season. The club will have a special edition calendar for the first 2,500 fans and newly graduated forward Daniel D’Amico will be in the house.
After the game, they hit the road for the first time this season with a Saturday night tilt against the Saginaw Spirit. They wrap the weekend with some Thanksgiving Monday action against their rivals, the Soo Greyhounds. Puck drop is 2:05 p.m.
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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.