Happy New Year and welcome to the unofficial start of the OHL’s second half. It’s the time of the season where teams load up, games get tougher, and the Windsor Spitfires figure out what their future holds. A weekend up north helped their cause but will it be enough to keep the momentum going?
After Christmas, the team grabbed a solid four points in three games before the ball dropped to end 2019. It continued a very successful first half that saw the Spitfires maintain their spot near the top of the Western Conference. However, it’s not getting any easier and roster decisions are imminent.
Would a road trip up north make life any easier? With the trade deadline coming up, answers were necessary.
Great Northern Sweep
After beating the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 10-2 on the road earlier this season, plus wins over the Sudbury Wolves and North Bay Battalion at home, nobody could blame the Spitfires for having confidence heading into their annual northern swing last weekend.
Friday night in Sault Ste. Marie, Xavier Medina got the start for the Spitfires while the Greyhounds countered with Ethan Taylor.
Will Cuylle kept the Spitfires’ moment going, making it 1-0 less than a minute in. That’s when the Daniel D’Amico show started. The 18-year-old forward made it 2-0, then added two more before the period ended to get his club the 4-1 lead after 20.
The Greyhounds made it a 5-3 game, but then D’Amico and Cuylle took over. Each added two more, giving the Spitfires the easy 10-4 win. D’Amico’s five goals in one game tied the Spitfires’ all-time record!
Following the win, the D’Amico and the team headed along Highway 17 to Sudbury for a Saturday night showdown with the Wolves. While not the offensive outburst of Friday, the Spitfires still did enough to earn the 3-2 win. It wasn’t pretty but they’ll take the two points. At this stage, keeping ahead of the competition is all that matters.
Sunday, the Spitfires wrapped the weekend up against the struggling Battalion.
Despite the Spitfires outshooting them 46-17, the teams required more than 60-minutes. Battalion goaltender Cameron Lamour stood on his head, but could only do so much. In overtime, Forward Jean-Luc Foudy scored on a pass from D’Amico on a 2-on-0, giving the Spitfires the 3-2 win. The weekend sweep keeps them in first place ahead of the Saginaw Spirit.
Now, the Spitfires get ready for the Oshawa Generals at home on Thursday before road games against the Flint Firebirds (Saturday) and Kitchener Rangers (Sunday).
To Trade or Not to Trade
The Spitfires will be busy off the ice, too. The Trade Deadline is on Thursday (20-year-old overagers) and Friday (everyone else), both at noon.
There’s a different vibe around the team for this deadline, too. When former general manager Warren Rychel was in charge, you knew his intentions and moves were likely. With Bill Bowler now at the helm, all of that has changed.
In his first season as GM, Bowler has kept rather quiet and is tough to read. He’s in a predicament, too. The team was expected to compete for home-ice this season and then make a run in 2020-21. Instead, they’re at the top of the conference. Does he pull off a big deal to bring in talent, trade veterans, or tweak and hope for the best? All three present pros and cons.
Going for another run is tempting but if you spend all of your extra assets now, what happens next season when the team is truly ready? Plus, there’s no guarantee of post-season success this season.
Trading veterans could set them up for 2020-21, bringing more young talent and picks. Messing with success and good chemistry might send the wrong message, though.
Keeping the roster together is an option, with some tweaks such as a veteran defenceman. This also costs less, leaving room for trades next season. Will it keep them at the top of the conference, though?
What’s best for the franchise? The one that gets their first playoff series win since 2011. That win is mandatory. Bring in veterans who will help this season and next, while keeping enough assets for a true run in the future.
As teams load up, Bowler has a tough week ahead of him. Let’s see what he learned from Rychel.