The Windsor Spitfires are finding out that learning to win takes time. Coming into 2021-22, they have an admirable combination of savvy veterans and eager youth, which should translate to wins – eventually. In the first week, though, it’s becoming clear that putting it all together will be a process.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, the club saw almost half of its roster, along with two coaches, move on to new adventures. This meant that not only were they trying to figure out how to gel on the ice but off it as well. Having 19-months off from the Ontario Hockey League would be tough for any club but this kind of turnover just adds to the adjustment period. While the potential is there for greatness at the end of the marathon, they’re finding the early kilometres to be a challenge.
What happened in their first week and what lies ahead? Let’s dig in.
Spitfires Still Gelling
Coming into training camp, the Spitfires were confident with the character and potential of their group. They had a potent offence, a new but eager defence, and a veteran goaltender who was looking to prove himself. The CHL saw their potential, too, and ranked them eighth on two occasions of the CHL Top-10. They hadn’t played any actual games but the recognition was still appreciated.
Once the games actually started, though, reality slowly set in. This wasn’t going to be easy.
In the opening four games – two against the Sarnia Sting and two against the London Knights – the story was almost identical. The Spitfires gave up the first two goals and then had to claw their way back. They managed to win one game in overtime, on the road against the Sting, while they lost at home to the Knights in a shootout. The other two games were decisive defeats where the Spitfires fell flat in the third period. The wind was knocked out of their sails and their inexperience showed.
Helping them learn and build confidence is new head coach Marc Savard, along with new associate Andy Delmore, and longtime associate Jerrod Smith.
Savard was an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues in 2019-20 while Delmore was an associate in the ECHL for several seasons. Coaching and developing junior players is new territory for them so there’s going to be an adjustment period on both sides. While it would be great to see everyone develop immediate chemistry and the systems just click, that’s not always possible. It’s going to take time and patience.
Spitfires Face Early Season Three-in-Three
This weekend, the club has a chance to get on the right foot with their first big test. They’ll play their first three-in-three weekend of the season.
On Thursday night, they welcome the Owen Sound Attack to the WFCU Centre. It’s also the night they’ll celebrate their 75th Anniversary with a new anniversary “uniform” and other attractions. After the game, they head up to Kitchener to face the Rangers on Friday night before finishing the weekend on the road against the Attack on Saturday.
Three-in-three weekends are a staple in the OHL. For an inexperienced club, getting one out of the way early can help with the team bonding and that will only benefit them down the road. It’s also a chance to work on a few key areas that have lacked so far.
Veteran Xavier Medina struggled in the preseason and that’s carried over to the regular season, allowing the first two goals in all four starts this season. The Spitfires need him to be their rock if they’re going to ease the pressure on this new roster.
Savard also has to find a way to get the offence going. They’ve scored just 10 goals in their opening four games, good for fourth last in the conference. NHL prospects Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars), Will Cuylle (New York Rangers), and Pasquale Zito (Detroit Red Wings) lead the club in points, but the other veterans need to step up. They can’t expect first-rounders Ryan Abraham (2020) and Ethan Miedema (2021) to be the heroes just yet.
The Spitfires come into the weekend tied for eighth in the Western Conference with three points in four games. While it’s very early and there’s no need to look for the panic button, there are still questions that need to be asked.
Spitfires Trade Robinson To Wolves
In preparation for this weekend, general manager Bill Bowler made a roster move on Wednesday afternoon, pulling off a deal with the Sudbury Wolves.
Bowler sent 19-year-old defenceman Dylan Robinson to the Wolves in exchange for 19-year-old defenceman Nathan Ribau and a third-round pick in 2025.
The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Robinson was in his second full season with the Spitfires after scoring 18 points in 55 games as a rookie. The former third-round pick (2018) had established himself as a more offensive defenceman who can throw the body on occasion.
Coming back to the Spitfires is the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Ribau, a former Wolves’ fourth-round pick. While he’s started 2021-22 strong with four points in six games, the club likes his grit and defence-first approach. Bowler called him a “character” kid. If he fits in, don’t be surprised if he sticks around for a couple of seasons.
Ribau and the Spitfires now get ready for the Attack on Thursday night. Puck drop is 7:30 p.m at the WFCU Centre.
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.