We knew the schedule would get tougher. It’s been talked about for weeks. This wasn’t the way the Windsor Spitfires planned it, though, and now a rough weekend has them searching for answers while trying to maintain their confidence.
The 2020 OHL Trade Deadline passed three weeks ago with several Western Conference teams topping up the tank for the march towards the playoffs. The Spitfires weren’t one of those teams, though. Despite being ranked ninth in Canada at Christmas, they made no moves, and now they’re learning that post-deadline life can get ugly.
How bad was last weekend and what needs to be done to right the ship? Let’s break it down.
Groundhog Weekend Sweep
The Flint Firebirds, London Knights, and Owen Sound Attack all have one thing in common – the Spitfires have beaten them all at some point this season. In theory, that should have made for a great weekend of hockey. In reality, it was anything but.
Thursday night, the Spitfires welcomed the Firebirds to the WFCU Centre and, before fans even sat down, it was a game of catch-up. Connor Roberts gave the visitors a 1-0 lead just two minutes in and they didn’t let up. Two more past goaltender Xavier Medina made it 3-0 visitors after 20.
The Spitfires continued their lacklustre play in the second, allowing two from sniper Ty Dellandrea before the 10-minute mark for a 5-0 deficit. Medina was promptly pulled, giving third-stringer Matt Tovell, called up from Lakeshore Jr. C., his OHL debut.
While Tovell did what he could, and the Spitfires added three goals, it was simply a night to forget. The Firebirds added three of their own to round out the 8-3 final.
A weekend road trip to face the Knights in London on Friday and the Attack in Owen Sound on Saturday was on tap. It was bound to be tough but maybe getting on the road would right the ship.
While the Spitfires jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Knights, the home green-and-white scored three in the second period and another four in the final frame for a convincing 7-4 win.
Saturday night wasn’t much different, unfortunately. The Attack jumped out to a 3-1 lead thanks to 21 first-period shots and cruised to the 6-2 win. While the Spitfires were within a goal in the second period, a power play goal from Sergey Popov was the backbreaker.
Getting swept is tough to swallow. What’s the next step?
Spitfires’ Sky Is Not Falling
First, recognize the issues. In three games, the Spitfires were outscored 21-9, outshot 107-94, zero-for-seven on the power play, and just seven-for-12 on the penalty kill. Murphy’s Law struck; if it could go wrong, it did. This is the same team that had a 13-game point streak in November and had lost nine games in regulation through Christmas.
The losses pushed them out of this week’s CHL Top 10. The results cannot be accepted and everyone from the coaches to the veterans to the rookies have to be held accountable. This isn’t the Spitfires’ team fans have come to know.
Here’s the thing, though. It’s junior hockey and one weekend in late January. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing less. The Spitfires are still within five points of the conference and division leads and they still have games-in-hand. It’s time to breathe a little.
Thursday night, they welcome the Hamilton Bulldogs to town, a team fighting to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Friday and Saturday, they have a home-and-home with Jamieson Rees and the Sarnia Sting, wrapping it up at home. The Sting have lost eight-straight and are likely out of the playoff race.
With two struggling teams on tap, it’s time to get back to the basics. The systems implemented by head coach Trevor Letowski in September worked. Wear down opponents and force them to make mistakes. Why change what’s not broken?
Don’t allow this slump to fester. It’s time to turn this around and re-focus. They were in the CHL Top 10 for a reason. Expectations have risen over the course of the season and they’ve earned everything they’ve accomplished. Learn the lessons, grow together, and don’t stress. Sometimes a little Hakuna Matata goes a long way!
The turn-around begins Thursday at 7:05 p.m.
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.