Windsor Spitfires’ Weekly: Pink, Red, and Great White North

Since puck drop on opening night, consistency has eluded the Windsor Spitfires. While some nights have been aced, others were head-scratchers, and finding that balance has been tricky. A four-point weekend may have been what the doctor ordered, though, and now they find themselves battling to stay near the top of the conference.

In the OHL’s Western Conference, every point really does matter. Last season, the Spitfires slid into the eighth playoff spot by just four points. In 2017-18, three points separated sixth and eighth. You get those points now while you have the opportunity.

With a pair of tough conference games last weekend, the Spitfires knew they had to be at their best. Especially when this coming weekend brings no relief.

Pink in the Rink

While hockey can be a big part of life, the key word there is “part.” It’s a game that we enjoy, but sometimes it needs to take a back seat.

Ideally, life goes smooth and we’re all healthy. However, that’s not reality and sometimes we’re dealt horrific challenges. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and, each season, teams throughout the OHL join forces with local charities to raise money towards beating this atrocious disease.

On Thursday night, the Spitfires teamed up with the Canadian Cancer Society and Canada Life to host their annual Pink in the Rink Night.

The Flint Firebirds were in town; a Western Division foe that has shot up the standings after two rough seasons. Even in their rough 2018-19, however, they took four-of-six games from the Spitfires.

The Firebirds have become a true threat and it showed in the first period, as they grabbed a 2-1 lead on the Spitfires after 20 minutes. No lead is safe, though, and both teams found that out in the second period.

While the Spitfires grabbed a 3-2 lead thanks to Kyle McDonald and Curtis Douglas, the Firebirds regained the lead with 36-seconds left in the period. However, no good game is without some drama. Egor Afanasyev, who recently signed with the Nashville Predators, tied it up at four with just six seconds left in the frame.

Egor Afanasyev Windsor Spitfires
Egor Afanasyev is finding his offensive game with the Windsor Spitfires. (Dave Jewell/THW)

The Spitfires took control in the third, including an empty net goal with the clock winding down, to seal a 7-5 win.

The win marked the fourth time the Spitfires had scored at least four goals this season. However, could they maintain their production levels just 24-hours later?

A Good Knight on the Road

Finding ways to win visiting the London Knights has been a daunting task for the Spitfires. They came into Friday night’s contest with a six-game losing streak at the Budweiser Gardens. The Knights haven’t been their dominant selves, though, going 2-1-1 at home.

The Spitfires used their momentum from Thursday night and jumped out to a 13-4 lead on the shot clock after 20 minutes. However, Knights’ goaltender Jordan Kooy turned away 12 of those with only Tyler Angle finding a solution heading into the room.

In a complete reversal, the Knights took control early in the second period and didn’t let up. They peppered Spitfires’ goaltender Kari Piiroinen with 20 shots, while only allowing eight themselves. The Finnish goaltender stood on his head, though, and the teams went into the rooms tied at one.

Neither Angle nor his team were letting this one slip away. They stuck to their game plan, putting 13 shots on Kooy in the final frame. Cole Purboo and Jean-Luc Foudy gave the Spitfires a 3-2 lead with seven minutes to go, followed by a highlight-reel goal from Angle with five minutes left. Take a look at this:

Angle’s goal sealed it as the Spitfires took a rare 4-2 win on the road against the Knights.

Not only was this their first win in London in seven tries, but it also pushed them closer to the West Conference lead. They’re currently two points behind the Saginaw Spirit with two games in hand.

The North Comes South

With a four-point weekend, the Spitfires get ready for some home cooking. It starts a stretch of four-of-five at the WFCU Centre and, with a 4-1-1-0 record, that’s right where they want to be.

On Thursday night, they welcome the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to town, a team that always gives them a serious battle. The Greyhounds went 2-1 each of the last two seasons in Windsor and it’s a rivalry that dates back decades.

In a Sunday afternoon match, the Spitfires welcome 2018 first overall pick Quinton Byfield and the Sudbury Wolves into town for their only appearance this season. Byfield is one of the top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft and has already shown pure dominance this season with 27 points in 13 games.

Quinton Byfield, OHL, Sudbury Wolves
Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

With a three-game winning streak under their belts, the Spitfires are getting the consistent production they’ve aimed for since training camp. The goals are coming from several sources, the defence is slowly shaping into form, and Piiroinen and Xavier Medina are showing plenty of confidence in goal.

That’s not to say work isn’t needed. They still allowed five goals in back-to-back games before the Knights; you can’t sustain long-term success with that.

Fortunately, the Spitfires are finding more success on the penalty kill, allowing just two power-play goals in their last three games. It’s boosted their penalty kill efficiency to 74-percent, which is approaching the 80-percent rate they’ve had the last two seasons.

Spitfires Trevor Letowski
Windsor Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski. (Dave Jewell/THW)

With two come-from-behind wins this weekend, the club knows they have the talent to get the job done no matter what the score. Every club needs that confidence. Now they just have to bring their game on a consistent basis. It’s not easy but that’s what makes it great.

Game time on Thursday is 7:05 p.m.