With March poking its head around the corner, the Windsor Spitfires are going to find out if they’re running full steam into a lion or a lamb. After a grueling stretch of seven games in 10 days, they are ready for a weekend of home cooking. Is that where they want to be, though?
This season has been anything but routine for the Spitfires. After being swept in the first round by the London Knights in March, they started 2019-20 by proving a lot of critics wrong. A strong first half put them into the CHL Top 10. However, a tough January and February have them down to fifth in the OHL’s Western Conference, searching for answers and some momentum.
Last weekend, the road called again as they wrapped up a very busy stretch.
A General-ly Tough Weekend
After four games in six days, including their Eastern Swing and Mickey Renaud Night at home, the Spitfires welcomed the London Knights to town on Thursday. The Knights had won their last two meetings, both in convincing fashion.
In the first period, it looked like the tides might change as the Spitfires outshot the visitors 15-7. However, they remained scoreless after 20 minutes. Cole Purboo put the home side up 1-0 early in the second but that was the their only lead of the game.
The Knights grabbed a 2-1 lead late in the second and cruised to a 4-2 win. While the Spitfires outshot the visitors 38-34, it was clear that something was lacking.
Maybe a trip to the Greater Toronto area would help?
Saturday night, the Spitfires rolled into Barrie to battle the Colts. The Spitfires beat the Colts 3-2 at home in a shootout in October. However, the tables turned on this night.
The visitors grabbed a quick 2-0 lead, including a goal from Nashville Predators’ prospect Egor Afanasyev, his 27th of the season. Unfortunately, the Colts tied it before the first period ended. Tyler Angle put the Spitfires up 3-2 early in the second but it didn’t last long. The home side scored a pair 13-seconds apart shortly after and cruised to the 5-3 win.
The two losses were tough to swallow but the Spitfires headed to Oshawa on Sunday evening for a match with the Generals, hoping to salvage something.
It didn’t happen, though. A goaltender battle between Spitfires’ Xavier Medina and Generals’ Zachary Paputsakis was the story of the night. The two combined for 69 saves; Paputsakis made 31 of them as the home side grabbed a tight 2-1 win.
The Spitfires finished the weekend with three losses, making life more difficult.
Luke Boka Breaks Spitfires’ Record
As frustrating as the weekend was, one major feat did come from it.
With the puck drop on Sunday night, Spitfires’ captain Luke Boka officially played in his 307th career game, breaking the team’s all-time games played record.
His 307th game breaks the previous record of 306 set by John-Scott Dickson who played from 2000-05. Boka is only the fourth player in team history to reach the 300-game plateau (Dickson, Craig Kennedy, and Craig Mahon).
Drafted in the fifth-round in 2015, Boka joined the Spitfires as a rough-and-tumble, two-way forward. The team was ecstatic to get the Plymouth, MI-native on draft day and he came as advertised, as a hard-working, hard-hitting player with leadership ability.
While Boka’s 137 points in 307 games seem modest, his defensive game and leadership are more valuable. He’s earned multiple OHL Coaches Poll awards, including Best Shotblocker in the Western Conference, and was named team captain in 2018-19.
Boka has always been a team-first player. He’s not known as a rambunctious, loud player, but he leads by example on the ice and in the room. He told the Windsor Star that being a Spitfire is a dream:
“That is something I am very grateful for,” he said. “The City of Windsor holds a special place in my heart and playing for the Windsor Spitfires is a dream come true,” (from ‘Hopes for home-ice advantage in playoffs fading as Spitfires drop two more games on the road’, Windsor Star – 2/24/20).
Spitfires Need Home Sweet Home
With the record broken and the road schedule easing up, the Spitfires head home to prepare for the weekend. On Thursday night, they welcome the Soo Greyhounds to town in a classic Western Division battle.
This isn’t a game to take lightly as the Greyhounds are just five points behind the eighth-seeded Erie Otters. The Spitfires have won all four meetings this season including two 10-goal efforts up north at the GFL Memorial Gardens. It’s the first time in team history that they’ve scored 10 goals in game twice in one season.
On Saturday, the Guelph Storm enter the WFCU Centre looking to pass the Spitfires and take over fifth seed in the conference. If you want an important game, this is it!
Finally, on Sunday, Shane Wright and the Kingston Frontenacs come to town for an afternoon tilt. While the Spitfires beat them 6-5 just two weeks ago on the road, it was by the skin of their teeth. The Frontenacs are fighting against the Niagara IceDogs for their playoff lives in the Eastern Conference and two points are gold right now.
Playing a full weekend at home would normally be considered a perfect recipe for someone in the Spitfires’ position. It’s not necessarily the case.
Since 1997-98, the Spitfires have had three seasons where they had a better record on the road than at home – 2006-07, 2014-15, and now 2019-20. They started off strong but six-straight losses at the WFCU Centre have turned the tide. It’s not impossible to reverse, though.
This is the perfect time for the Spitfires to grab a few wins and get their home-ice momentum back. It’s time to take advantage of the schedule again.
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.