Weekends have been a battle to find consistency for the Windsor Spitfires, but a special occasion and the breaking of a record at least made it a unique four days.
After two disappointing weekends that saw the Spitfires lose four-of-six games, the team was hoping to get back on track as they laced up on Thursday night against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. It opened up a three-game set that saw the Spitfires hit the road on Saturday and Sunday.
Stickin’ It to Cancer
Games against the Greyhounds are always circled on the calendar. It’s a big divisional game that gets the players and the fans revved up. When it’s for a special cause, though, it just adds to the atmosphere.
The Greyhounds skated into the WFCU Centre on Thursday night as the Spitfires hosted their annual “Stick it to Cancer” Night. The Spitfires teamed up with the Cintas Corporation and the Canadian Cancer Society for this outstanding cause. Game used sticks from Spitfires’ Tyler Angle, Cole Purboo, Jean-Luc Foudy, Chris Playfair and captain Luke Boka were raffled off. Cintas also sold limited-edition pink t-shirts and all the proceeds went to the Cancer Society.
Veteran goaltenders Michael DiPietro (Spitfires) and Matthew Villalta (Greyhounds) took to their creases as the opening puck was dropped. Defence was king early on as the teams only had a combined two shots in the first five minutes. Tight-checking hockey doesn’t always excite fans but sometimes you have to be patient to win a game like this.
The Spitfires found themselves on a power play midway through the first period and did their best to finally test Villalta. They peppered the Hounds’ goaltender but couldn’t find the answer. As the buzzer sounded, the teams remained scoreless. The Spitfires had the lead in shots, though, at 12-7.
Just 30 seconds into the second, the red light went on. Hounds forward Morgan Frost turned at the blueline and fired a shot that found its way low through DiPietro’s glove. The Hounds had a 1-0 lead. After the goal, it was business as usual. The Spitfires fired another 11 shots on Villalta but he kept his stats in-tact.
On the other side, the Hounds had a couple of power plays thanks to penalties from Douglas and Staios. The Spitfires’ penalty kill at home came into the game ranked number one in the OHL with a 95-percent rate. It held true as the Spitfires stood tall around DiPietro. Frost’s goal held up as the buzzer sounded and the Greyhounds took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes.
The Spitfires continued to pour on the shots in the final frame, including a golden opportunity on Villalta with a two-on-none. Villalta was a wall, though, and frustration set in for the Spitfires. Keegan Howdeshell added to the frustration by putting one past DiPietro’s glove to make it 2-0 Greyhounds with just over five minutes remaining.
Howdeshell added one more into the empty net for the Greyhounds, which should have sealed the deal at 3-0. The OHL doesn’t always work like that, though.
Spitfires’ rookie Will Cuylle finally solved Villalta with just two minutes left, getting his fourth of the season on the power play. He was followed by Angle with seven seconds to go, who put home his fourth of the season.
They weren’t enough, though, as the Greyhounds edged the Spitfires 3-2. The final shots were 29-22 for the Spitfires.
Colts Hit Cruise Control
Losing at home is never fun. When you lose at home before heading to face the Colts and Attack, in their barns, it’s that much more daunting.
Since 2013-14, the Spitfires have gone 1-4 in Barrie (outscored 20-13) and have gone 2-5-3 in Owen Sound (outscored 46-27). Any nerves or doubts were understandably justified.
After a 4-3 come-from-behind win last weekend against the Colts in Windsor, the Spitfires had some momentum. It’s safe to say that was quickly put out. Spitfires’ goaltender Kari Piiroinen was given the task of stopping the Colts’ offence on Saturday night at the Barrie Molson Centre. He put up a valiant effort. It just wasn’t enough.
Colts veteran Lucas Chiodo opened the scoring just 91-seconds into the game for a 1-0 Colts lead. Mathew MacDougall tied it up for the Spitfires at the 8:46 mark but that’s as close as the Spitfires would come.
Chiodo added his second of the game, and 10th of the season, a minute after MacDougall for a 2-1 Colts lead. The Colts added four more – Matej Pekar, Ryan Suzuki, Tyson Foerster and Jason Willms – before the final buzzer sounded. While the shots were 34-31 for the Colts, the scoreboard told a different tale as the Colts took a convincing 6-1 win.
Here’s a recap from the Colts’ Twitter:
Colts Haunt the Spitfires with 6-1 Victory on Halloween Night
— Barrie Colts (@OHLBarrieColts) October 28, 2018
Spitfires Find Their Attack
The Spitfires’ next chapter could now go two ways—fail to do anything against the Attack or they find a way to right the plane. In what was a near mirror image of their Saturday night tilt, the Spitfires entertained themselves on Sunday afternoon and had Attack fans leaving unimpressed.
Rookie forward Jordan Frasca opened the scoring for the Spitfires by putting home a rebound midway through the first period. Just under two minutes later, Attack veteran Markus Phillips tied it up at one on the power play. From there, the plane was full speed ahead.
Spitfires alternate captain Chris Playfair put home his third of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead. MacDougall then scored his second in as many nights and he was followed by a pair from six-foot-nine Curtis Douglas. Suddenly, it was 5-1 Spitfires with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
Frasca started the game with a goal, so he might as well end it, too. His second of the night and fourth of the season gave the Spitfires the 6-1 win. DiPietro made 33 saves for the win.
DiPietro Earns Prestigious Record
The win over the Attack was big for another reason. The kid they call “Mikey” has finally done it.
Coming into this season, DiPietro was sitting at 75 wins for his OHL career, three shy of the team record held by Memorial Cup champion Andrew Engelage (78 wins). It felt almost inevitable that DiPietro would pass Engelage. It was just a matter of when it would happen.
DiPietro’s last win was the come-from-behind win at home against the Colts on Oct. 18. Since then, he had a shootout loss and a regulation loss. Sunday was the day, though. With the 6-1 win, DiPietro earned his 79th career win for the Spitfires, giving him sole possession of the record.
He thanked his parents and the Spitfires on Twitter:
Before DiPietro arrived on the scene, the Spitfires’ goaltending situation was less-than-stellar. He gave the team hope, nearly right from the beginning. The record is now his; one less thing to think about.
He and his teammates can now get ready for their next task—the Ottawa 67’s at home on Thursday night. It’s the start of another three-game weekend as the team heads to Kitchener to face the Rangers on Friday before a Saturday night showdown at home against the Sarnia Sting.
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.