We’re about to find out what the Windsor Spitfires are truly made of. Heading into the first week of February, they’ve played the fewest games (43) of any team in the OHL. This past weekend, they split a pair of tough contests and now get ready for a stretch that’s been circled on their calendar since June.
Having multiple games-in-hand on your competitors is always welcomed. Being just two points back of first place in the OHL’s Western Conference just adds to that. The Spitfires have exceeded all expectations to this point. However, now it gets interesting. With every weekend from here-on-out having three games, this is where their collective mettle must shine.
First, though, came a challenging two-game weekend that saw the national spotlight squarely on them.
Rough Knight, Better Day
When you’re one of the top teams in the league, national attention is going to find you. Such was the case on Thursday night as the Spitfires welcomed the London Knights to town for a game broadcast on Sportsnet. Over 5,800 fans packed the rink to see more than a dozen NHL prospects and draft hopefuls.
Kari Piiroinen took the net for the Spitfires while Brent Brochu was the crease king for the Knights.
Just eight minutes in, Hunter Skinner wired home a shot from the point to give the Knights a 1-0 lead. While Curtis Douglas tied it up shortly after, we would see more goals from the road team. A late first-period goal, followed by an early second-period tally, gave the visitors the 3-1 lead.
Will Cuylle scored his 16th late in the second frame but the Knights pounced on a pair of chances to make it 5-2 after 40. They exchanged goals in the third to make it a 6-3 final.
The Spitfires had two days to figure it out before heading up to Sarnia for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Sting. It was “Hockey Day in the OHL” on YourTV, so the clubs had a provincial audience. The goaltenders took full advantage.
Xavier Medina started in net for the Spitfires and put on a clinic. His team gave him a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Wyatt Johnston and Connor Corcoran. However, the Sting would respond with two late goals to tie it up. Goaltender Ben Gaudreau stood on his head, giving his club a chance at a point.
Extra time was needed but neither team could find the answer in overtime. In the shootout, the clubs went seven rounds before Cuylle beat Gaudreau blocker side to give the Spitfires a 3-2 win.
Hit the Road, Bud
Both results were needed, showing the Spitfires that winning won’t come easy. Life’s about to get chaotic for this club as they start a stretch of seven-straight weekends with at least three games, taking them into the playoffs.
To this point, they have done what’s necessary to set themselves up for success, including beating the top teams. Now, it’s a mental game and one they can certainly win. Let the chaos begin!
Thursday night, the Spitfires host the Flint Firebirds, who have won four-straight. The clubs give each other fits so there’s no reason to expect anything less than a playoff-style tilt.
Friday night, the team hits the road to face the Knights in London. It’s their last meeting at the Budweiser Gardens with the teams splitting a pair there so far this season. Bragging rights and key points are on the line.
If that wasn’t enough, the club heads up to Owen Sound on Saturday to face the Attack, who are tough as nails at home. In their only meeting this season, the Spitfires grabbed a 4-3 overtime win at home in November.
With two months left in the season, the Western Conference is starting to show its true colours. Four teams are battling for the top spots, including the Spitfires. This isn’t a fluke, despite what critics believe. They’ve earned everything so far. However, there can be improvements.
Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski has the spotlight. Last Thursday night, he implemented a defensive style, despite being down to the Knights. It’s an old system that can’t resurface.
The Spitfires play their best hockey when they forecheck hard, use their size, and create chances. Make the opposition sweat and good things will come. Stick with what’s worked!
Puck drop on Thursday is 7:05 p.m.