As we hit the two-month mark of the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, not only are teams finding their path for the season but players, too. For the Windsor Spitfires, several players have stepped up their game over the last month, creating an entertaining (if not always winning) brand of hockey. One of them took his game a bit farther, though, and will lead the team into one of the best nights of the season.
Coming into the post-pandemic era, the Spitfires knew they needed to get contributions from all of their veterans. It didn’t matter if you were a sophomore or an overager (20-year-old); you needed to step up and show what you had. Offensively, the club has done just that. However, they’ve struggled defensively, and that’s put them near the bottom of the Western Conference. All is not lost, though, as they had the chance to right the ship and take a pair of wins this past weekend.
Let’s unpack it all…
Wyatt Johnston Dominates Weekend Split
Coming into the weekend, the Spitfires’ story hasn’t been pretty. Since a 7-0 win over the Flint Firebirds on Nov. 20, the team had lost three-of-four, being outscored 23-19. Their losses have been high-scoring affairs where they lost a lead in a blaze of glory.
Maybe this past weekend was the turnaround as they hosted the last-place Erie Otters on Thursday before traveling to play the Sarnia Sting on Friday. The club knew that, despite its struggles, both games were winnable.
The Spitfires jumped out to a commanding lead in each game – 4-1 on Thursday and 6-2 on Friday. They were in control thanks to veterans Johnston (Dallas Stars) and Will Cuylle (New York Rangers). Johnston grabbed three points on Thursday and a career-high six points on Friday, while Cuylle combined for five points.
Was it enough, though? Yes and no… or no and yes?
On both nights, the club saw their past come back to haunt them. A 4-1 lead on Thursday vanished in the third period, en route to a disappointing 5-4 overtime defeat. However, on Friday, they finally found their mark. Once again, they built up a commanding lead, this time 6-2, thanks to Johnston, Cuylle, and veterans Kyle McDonald and Louka Henault. In the third period, though, the lead slipped away, down to 6-5. However, the story was about to change.
Tired of the team blowing leads, Johnston had enough and put this one away for a 7-5 final.
While getting just the single weekend win is frustrating, Johnston extended his point streak to 14 games, and his six-point outing was the most by a Spitfire since Josh Ho-Sang’s effort in Feb. 2014. He also picked up the OHL’s Player of the Week honors and was on the CHL Team of the Week.
Spitfires Get Into Christmas Spirit
Do you hear what we hear? It’s the sound of Christmas at the WFCU Centre. The Spitfires host a pair of games this week, and both have holiday themes around them.
On Wednesday night, they welcome the Owen Sound Attack to the rink for a 7:30 p.m. Western Conference battle. The clubs have met twice so far, each with a dominating performance at home. With a single point separating them, it should be the barn-burner we’ve all wanted. In addition, the Spitfires will have Socks and Bottoms Night, where fans can bring a new pair of socks to be donated to the Rotary Club of Windsor.
Friday, the Spitfires head up the 401 to face the London Knights, who have won all three meetings this season.
Finally, it’s the big one on Saturday – the annual Teddy Bear Toss as the Spitfires host the Kitchener Rangers. Just like in other rinks around North America, it’s a fan favorite and one of the best nights of the season. Fans toss new or gently used stuffed animals onto the ice after the Spitfires’ first goal and all animals are donated to local children’s charities for the holidays. It’s an incredible event! Here’s a clip from 2018:
The game itself should be impressive. While the Rangers have won both meetings this season, the clubs always put on a show, and they’re tied in the standings. The fur will be flying!
While there will be plenty of entertainment at the rink, there will be one missing piece. Last week, Team Canada named its National Junior Team Camp Roster and Cuylle was among the lucky chosen. The camp is held from Dec. 9 through 12 in Calgary, with the 2022 World Juniors running from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Red Deer, AB.
Bowler Acquires Maillet From Storm
The Spitfires will also have a new face in the lineup when the teddies go flying. A week after acquiring forward Alex Christopoulos from the North Bay Battalion, general manager Bill Bowler is at it again.
On Tuesday afternoon, Bowler worked out a deal with the Guelph Storm. He acquired forward Jacob Maillet, 18, in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2022 and a conditional 12th round pick in 2024.
This season, the 6-foot-1, 187-pound Dundas-native had two goals and six points in 23 games for the Storm. He was their second-round pick in 2019. Bowler called Maillet a 200-foot player.
“Jacob is a reliable forward and is responsible in all three zones,” he said.
The newest Spitfire added that he’s looking forward to a fresh start.
“I am extremely excited to be with Windsor, and I think it will be a good opportunity for me,” Maillet said.
He’s not expected to light up the score sheet but rather provide help all over the ice, including on the penalty kill. This is a low-risk, high-reward move like the Christopoulos deal last week. It will give Bowler and head coach Marc Savard some options until they get a full roster down the road. Fans can expect Maillet to be in the lineup on Wednesday.
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.