Through 30 games of their 68-game 2022-23 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, the Windsor Spitfires find themselves atop the Western Conference with a pair of foes. It hasn’t been an easy ride and with the Christmas break in full swing, the team is turning to the big man himself for some extra help in the second half.
After capturing the OHL’s Western Conference championship last season, head coach Marc Savard has his club becoming that well-oiled machine we hear so much about. They’ve entered the break going 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 and are third in the entire Canadian Hockey League (CHL) in goals-scored (138 through 30 games). Despite some speedbumps, it’s hard to complain about the continued success. However, there are things that could help them out in the second half. That’s where the big guy comes in. Santa’s checking his list, making sure the club has been good this year and is ready to deliver some presents. What’s on the Spitfires’ Christmas wish list? Let’s take a look!
Spitfires’ Christmas Wish List
5. Continued Locker Room Cohesion
The Spitfires’ first gift on their wishlist is maintaining their locker room cohesion. When Savard took over last season, he wanted to change the culture of the team. Not only did he implement creative offensive systems, but he made sure to change the dynamic in the locker room. Rookies and veterans were one unit, working together for a greater cause. They brought in the “WE > ME” slogan for the playoffs, using the old Spitfires’ “W” to symbolize the team over the individual.
In November, Savard mentioned how well the rookies have developed and he pointed to the “family” style atmosphere in the room. The players want to come to the rink, they want to work, and they want to spend time as a group. That’s where you’re going to find success.
They’re also there for each other on the ice. On Dec. 15, captain Matthew Maggio tied the franchise record with a five-goal outing. However, early in the game, he was hit awkwardly by one of the Erie Otters and 2022 second-round pick Liam Greentree came to his defence. Post-game, the Spitfires’ WWE-style “Player of the Game” belt went to the captain. Instead of taking it, he passed it right on to the rookie, giving him a shoutout and saying the protection meant more to the room than the five goals.
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When players want to come to the rink and be there for each other, regardless of league experience, you’re going to get that cohesion that can’t be taught. The organization has created an atmosphere that screams success. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish but the entire city appreciates it. The longer they stay as a “family”, the better the results will be.
4. More Ice for Young Players
One of the results of the Spitfires’ family-style culture has been the play of several of their youngsters. They’ve all been patient, worked hard, and have seen their ice time slowly rise since the start of the season. The next gift on the club’s wishlist is more ice time for this group in the second half.
The club has had outstanding depth all season, led by veterans like Maggio and Alex Christopoulos, and it’s been a big part of their success. However, for the Spitfires to continue rising, they’re going to need the youngsters to get more ice time. Savard rewards effort and production with ice time; he gave Greentree a shot on the top line in late November and the kid ran with it.
It’s not just Greentree, either. Sophomore Ethan Miedema (2023 NHL Draft eligible) and rookie defenceman Anthony Cristoforo are both on pace for at least 50-point seasons. They also have A.J. Spellacy, from the 2022 OHL Draft, who has shown increased production over the last month. Finally, goaltender Joey Costanzo has done so well in his 13 games (goals-against average (GAA) of 3.15 and .901 save percentage (SV%)) that he and veteran Mathias Onuska have become more of a 1A and 1B tandem.
While the veterans are pouring it on and having career seasons, the youngsters are showing they’re ready for more ice and opportunity. The team has emphasized sustained success over the long term; no more build/rebuild models. So far, it’s working and that’s a testament to Bowler’s drafting. It should make for a fun second half.
3. First Seed in Western Conference
Since their 2010 Memorial Cup championship, the Spitfires have only known what it’s like to be in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference. They’ve had tiny tastes of success but little else.
Last season, they exploded in the second half, earning a 13-game winning streak and capturing their first Western Conference regular season title since 2009-10. Nothing came easy, nor should it, but now they’re itching to maintain their seat at the top.
This season, they started off strong going 8-0-3-0 but a mid-November speedbump put them back a few seeds in the standings. Clubs like the London Knights and Saginaw Spirit, who are gunning for their own titles, took over and weren’t giving Savard’s club any room. The Spitfires lost to both clubs in November but that was more of a wake-up call than a matter of talent levels.
With the Spitfires having gone 7-2-0-1 in their last 10 entering the break, they’ve managed to grab a tie with the Spirit for the top spot and even have a game-in-hand. However, the Knights are a single point behind with two games in hand, creating a complicated situation.
This break gives the Spitfires a chance to relax, heal up, and refocus as the second half comes near. The next item on the wishlist is a chance to stay as the first seed. The talent and systems are there; they just might need a hand from the big guy in red to make it happen.
2. A Healthy Lineup
Last season, the Spitfires had a fair number of health issues with their goaltenders. From COVID-19 to various injuries, the entire position saw issues and they wound up using four goaltenders at various points. This season, issues have happened again as forwards Ryan Abraham and Thomas Johnston both suffered injuries in November which have kept them out ever since.
For the last two seasons, Savard’s club has been all about depth; getting all four lines and three defensive pairs to contribute in some fashion. It’s worked and creates a dynamic system to defend against. However, it’s also big when injuries or illnesses come up. A player like Greentree could go from the third or fourth line up to the first line to fill in a need.
Overall, they’ve been lucky this season as their top-10 producers have a combined 20 games missed out of 30 played and that’s including Abraham’s nine missed games (injury) and rookie defenceman Anthony Cristoforo’s five (World Under-17 Challenge). Their next wishlist gift is getting Abraham and Johnston healthy and keeping a healthy roster throughout the second half.
1. Success at Trade Deadline
Coming into the Christmas break, the Spitfires have one of the tightest dressing rooms the organization has seen in years. They play for each other, hang out off the ice, and are a cohesive unit. That’s what makes the Tues., Jan. 10 trade deadline so important.
The league is on a Christmas trade freeze until games resume on Wed., Dec. 28 (the Spitfires are home to the Guelph Storm). When that freeze lifts, general manager Bill Bowler has some work to do. This next gift on the wishlist is simply about maintaining their locker room cohesion, or even improving it, as the deadline passes. That’s not going to be easy. Bowler doesn’t want to bring in a player who’s going to stir the pot or create any unnecessary drama, especially if it means trading away an important piece of the current puzzle.
The Spitfires would love nothing more than to get a player or two who adds to their success on the ice and enhances any off-ice family atmosphere. It’s a tough gift to ask for but one that could see them repeat last season’s success when they went to the OHL Championship.
Getting any combination of these five gifts would be a huge get for the Spitfires. They’ve found success so far but those would only develop it even more. With such a tight conference, any points now will be beneficial when the pucks drop in those final few games. Let’s see what the jolly old man in red has in store for this storied franchise.
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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.