With Hallowe’en barely in the rearview mirror, the Windsor Spitfires pulled off a few tricks and gave their fans some treats this weekend with a pair of wins in three games.
It hasn’t been the great start the Spitfires were hoping for. After finishing in the sixth seed last season, the team was expected to improve and make a bigger push. Instead, they found themselves coming into this weekend with a 6-8-0-1 record.
While they were in the middle of a logjam in the Western Conference, with just four points separating the third spot with the ninth spot, it’s not where they wanted to be. Perhaps this weekend was the chance for change?
Blue Paint Battle With the Capital
After a convincing 6-1 win in Owen Sound against the Attack on Oct. 28, the Spitfires returned home on Thursday night for a battle against the #2-ranked team in Canada, the Ottawa 67s.
The 67s came in as winners of 10-straight games and it showed in the opening period. Neither team would give an inch as goaltenders Cedric Andree (67s) and Michael DiPietro (Spitfires) faced a combined 14 shots. Nothing got past either of them in the first period, though.
Next up was the second period, same as the first, as the teams continued a scoreless game through the second period. The Spitfires did have a 13-5 edge in shots but two power plays late in the period helped that cause.
Overtime seemed like a real possibility as the teams started the third period. Veteran forward Tye Felhaber finally beat DiPietro midway through the final period, though, and Andree closed the door the rest of the way. The 67s came out with a rare 1-0 win. It was the first time the Spitfires have been in a 1-0 game since January when they beat the Flint Firebirds at home.
The win continued the 67s streak while the loss pushed the Spitfires to the back of the conference logjam. It certainly wasn’t the way the Spitfires wanted to start the weekend but, when you take a high-ranked team to a 1-0 game, there are some positives involved.
Rookie Finn Refuses Rangers
Spitfires’ rookie goaltender Kari Piiroinen got the start on Friday night as the team headed up the 401 for a showdown with the Kitchener Rangers. The Rangers came into the game having lost four-of-five games. It would be a good test for the Spitfires, who split their two games at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium last season.
After going 60-minutes without a goal against the 67s, the Spitfires made sure that wouldn’t be repeated. Dallas Stars’ prospect Curtis Douglas opened the scoring just two minutes into the game and it was quickly 1-0 Spitfires. At the halfway point of the period, second-year forward Cody Morgan snapped a shot past Rangers’ goaltender Luke Richardson. It was Morgan’s first goal of the season, making it 2-0 Spitfires.
While the Spits had a two-goal lead, it wasn’t from a lack of effort from the Rangers. They put 19 shots on Piiroinen through the opening 40 minutes and another 15 in the third period alone. However, the young Finn has shown a poise that’s well beyond his age and nothing phased him. Piiroinen made several big saves as the clock ran down, which both helped his stock and frustrated the Rangers at the same time.
Spitfires’ veteran Tyler Angle put a rebound past Richardson with 12-minutes left in the game to give the Spitfires the 3-0 lead. That was also the final, despite the Rangers having a 34-27 edge in shots.
It’s tough to define “perfect road game” but this comes close for the Spitfires. They held the Rangers scoreless, including zero-for-four on the power play, got timely goals themselves and had their backup goaltender play just as well as their star. There was one more test, though, and that came on Saturday night.
Red Light Saturday Night
It had been seven months since the Sarnia Sting eliminated the Spitfires from the 2017-18 playoffs. Despite DiPietro’s outstanding performance, the Spitfires lost in six games. This was the first regular-season matchup since that series.
Not many would have expected the Spitfires to come out with something to prove. It was their third game in three nights and they just walked over the Rangers in their own barn. A bit of fatigue would have been justified and understandable. It was the exact opposite, though.
From nearly the opening draw, the Spitfires hit every Sting player they could and hit with authority. Head coach Trevor Letowski put them on a mission and they weren’t letting up. The hard work paid off just two minutes into the game when Douglas scored his second in as many nights for a 1-0 Spitfires lead. The six-foot-nine 250-pound forward had a couple of monster hits before the goal, too, setting up the momentum nicely.
Soon after Douglas’ opening goal, second-year forward Daniel D’Amico scored his fourth of the season to make it 2-0. D’Amico finished the night just one assist shy of the Gordie Howe Hat-Trick (had a fight with Curtis Egert later in the game).
There was no letting up for the Spitfires in the second and early portion of the third. While fatigue was setting in, and the hitting had gone down a bit, they kept putting the puck past Sting goaltender Aidan Hughes. Veterans Luke Kutkevicius and Connor Corcoran each found the net by the midway mark of the third period to give the Spits the 4-0 lead.
Cue Anthony Salinitri.
The Windsor-native had 10 goals and two assists against the Spitfires in just nine games last season (regular and playoffs) alone. It’s not a Spitfires/Sting game without Salinitri finding the scoresheet and he did it again on Saturday. Salinitri finally broke DiPietro’s shutout bid with 10:44 left in the third period to make it 4-1 Spitfires. The teams exchanged goals before the final buzzer sounded and the Spitfires skated off with a 5-2 win.
Here are the highlights via Cogeco TV:
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) November 4, 2018
Spitfires’ Veteran Step Up
Coming into this weekend, the Spitfires were without their top two scorers in Jean-Luc Foudy and Will Cuylle. They were at the World Under-17 Challenge with teammate Kyle McDonald. The trio had combined for 26 points in 15 games (Foudy with 12 points and Cuylle with 10).
It had been no secret that the Spitfires veterans needed to step up and find their game. The message was well received. Douglas had two points and was a plus-five rating in three games. Kutkevicius had three points and was a plus-four over the same time. DiPietro also allowed just three goals in two games, providing his usual highlight-reel self.
Foudy, Cuylle and McDonald are expected to be away for another weekend, but if Douglas, Kutkevicius, DiPietro and the rest of the Spitfires’ veterans can build off of this weekend, nothing but good can come from it. While having Foudy and Cuylle producing this early can only benefit the Spitfires long-term, they needed the veterans to show they can lead the way.
The Spitfires are now off until they play back-to-back home games against the Guelph Storm (Saturday night) and the Saginaw Spirit (Sunday afternoon).
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.