When you’re a rebuilding club in the OHL, some weekends are going to be better than others. The Windsor Spitfires have realized this, but are showing that inexperience doesn’t mean giving up.
The Spitfires started off 2019 reeling off four-straight wins. Afterwards, though, they lost four-of-five coming into last weekend. It’s a turbulent ride that tests the will of the young. It also makes for some really interesting hockey. With a losing streak in tow, could the young Spitfires find their way against two of the league’s top teams, or would the growing pains continue?
Knights to Forget
The Spitfires’ rivalry with the London Knights is as classic as they come. No matter where the teams are in the standings, fans and players get revved up. The Knights came into the weekend having lost just twice in regulation all month and just seven times all season. While Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski had a plan, there was only so much he could do against a team that’s built to win the Memorial Cup.
Colton Incze took the net for the Spitfires while Joseph Raaymakers was the man for the Knights. The two teams put on a show in the opening 10-minutes, each getting quality chances. However, the experience of the Knights soon took over.
Antonio Stranges and Cole Tymkin gave the Knights a 2-0 lead after 20 and they held a commanding 20-8 lead on the shot clock. Letowski stressed defence in the second period and the Knights were held to just five shots. They scored on two, though, and it was 4-0 after 40.
Will Cuylle scored a pair in the third and Connor Corcoran added a single, but the Knights countered with three, including two from Billy Moskal, to seal the 7-3 win. While it wasn’t the start the Spitfires wanted, maybe Friday night would be better in London?
Liam Foudy wouldn’t allow it. The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect scored on goaltender Kari Piiroinen just 1:29 into the game. After that, six different Knights scored throughout the 60 minutes and Joseph Raaymakers kept his sheet clean as the Knights handed the Spitfire a 7-0 loss.
Piiroinen allowed all seven goals, though this was a team effort from start-to-finish. It was time for the Spitfires to head home and salvage something from the weekend.
Dog Days of Winter
As the City of Windsor was between winter storms, the Spitfires welcomed the Niagara IceDogs to town. The IceDogs are primed for a long playoff run and had won five-straight. Letowski didn’t let his team stop skating and they took it to the IceDogs in the first period, outshooting them 13-7. A Cole Purboo shorthanded breakaway was the lone mistake on goaltender Jake McGrath’s resume and the Spitfires had a 1-0 lead after 20.
Spitfires goaltender Incze was facing his former team for the first time and gave the crowd something to cheer about. He stopped everything in the first period and allowed just two goals on 15 shots in the second period. His acrobatic nature kept the Spitfires in this game and it was 2-1 Niagara after 40 minutes.
While the opening 10 minutes of the third period was quiet, the teams found the net late. The teams split a pair before an empty-netter from Philip Tomasino at 19:37 gave the IceDogs the 4-2 lead. Spitfires forward Daniel D’Amico cued the dramatics as he scored with 10 seconds left, giving him 20 on the season. However, it was too late. McGrath shut the door in the final 10 seconds to give the Ice Dogs the 4-3 win.
Newly-acquired forward and Tecumseh-native Jack Studnicka had two assists for the IceDogs. He has 15 points in nine games since being dealt to the IceDogs from the Oshawa Generals after the 2019 World Juniors.
While it wasn’t the way Letowski had hoped to end the weekend, the effort from his club was clear. That was the game they needed to build some momentum heading into this coming weekend.
Old School Road Trip
This weekend, the Spitfires hop the bus and head into snow country. Thursday night, they take on the North Bay Battalion at the old North Bay Memorial Gardens. Friday night, they make the hop down Highway 17 to Sudbury to face the Wolves. Finally, on Saturday, it’s back south into Owen Sound to face the Attack.
One of the beautiful things about this trip is all three games are in old school arenas. North Bay Memorial Gardens opened up in 1955 and seats just 4,246. The Sudbury Community Arena opened in 1951, seats 5,100 and is reminiscent of the old Windsor Arena. Here’s a video from the Sudbury Community Arena:
Lastly, the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Center in Owen Sound is the newest one. It was built in 1983 but seats just 3,500.
The Wolves, Battalion and Attack are all fighting for playoff positioning, making this a key weekend on the schedule. The Spitfires have had success against both the Wolves and Attack this season, beating the Wolves at home and the Attack on the road.
Letowski will also get one more asset on Friday night as defenceman Sean Allen returns following a six-game suspension. He was given a major and game misconduct two weeks ago during a home game against the Erie Otters.
While the road hasn’t been kind to the Spitfires this season, with just six wins in 24 games, it’s time to play spoiler. They sit four points back of seventh place in the Western Conference and three points up on the Erie Otters in ninth place. Perhaps a long road trip down the stretch is a perfect time for the Spitfires to show that, while they’re inexperienced, playing spoiler and holding off the Otters is exactly what they needed.