A new year and a fresh start could be just what the doctor ordered for the Windsor Spitfires. With 2019 taking control, something has changed with the Spitfires and optimism is starting to peek around the corner.
Undeniably, it’s been a rough season in the Rose City. With a record of 18-19-2-1, good for seventh in the Western Conference, expectations haven’t been met and inconsistent hockey has been the story on both sides of the puck. Over the last week, though, there’s a new vibe around the rink. Maybe it’s the calendar flipping to a new script or perhaps little changes have sent big messages.
Lighting the Fire
After losing 9-5 to the Mississauga Steelheads on New Year’s Eve, which capped off a streak of losing seven-of-eight games, something clicked inside the Spitfires. Just 24 hours later, general manager Warren Rychel traded forward Cody Morgan to the Flint Firebirds for Flint’s second-round pick in 2020 and fourth-round pick in 2021. The Spitfires also released overage forward Luke Kutkevicius.
Morgan, who had nine points in 33 games for the Spitfires, first came to the Spitfires in a blockbuster deal last season with the Kingston Frontenacs. Kutkevicius had 16 points in 30 games this season and was acquired during the summer of 2017.
A shortened roster came together on Thursday night for a match with the Sudbury Wolves. The Wolves had lost four straight and were without goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen who was in Vancouver with Team Finland for the World Juniors.
The teams went tit-for-tat in goals with the Spitfires owning four one-goal leads in the game. When it’s this close, though, overtime is almost inevitable. Fortunately for the Spitfires, forward Daniel D’Amico gave his team their fifth and most important lead of the game with the overtime winner. Rookie Kari Piiroinen made 21 saves for the win while Jake McGrath took the loss.
Rychel wasn’t done with the moves, either. On Friday, prior to their road game with the Guelph Storm, he signed free agent forward Chase Campbell and released second-year defenceman Lev Starikov. The Spitfires drafted Starikov in the 2017 CHL Import Draft but, despite a promising rookie season, he never got going in his second season. He has since signed with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League.
The changes in the roster continued to light the fire under the players as they put up five goals against the Storm. Veteran forward Cole Purboo led the way with a hat trick while D’Amico and rookie Jean-Luc Foudy each had two assists in the 5-2 win.
That momentum continued on Sunday as seven different players had a goal while 13 players recorded at least one point in a 7-1 win at home over the Kitchener Rangers. The newly-signed Campbell had a goal in his first game against his former team. Getting three wins on the weekend was crucial for the Spitfires. While it’s just one weekend, they struggled through the first half and a six-point weekend shows that, even with roster changes, they can come together when it counts.
Trade Deadline Looms
The OHL Trade Deadline is Thursday at noon and Rychel continues to work the phones. On top of his earlier moves, he made another move on Wednesday night. He sent 18-year-old forward Mathew MacDougall to the Erie Otters in exchange for Erie’s fourth-round pick in 2022, their fifth-round pick in 2021 and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds’ sixth-round pick in 2021.
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) January 10, 2019
MacDougall was originally acquired from the Barrie Colts in June 2017 for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020; as long as he played one game for the Spitfires, the pick kicked in. This season, MacDougall had nine goals and 17 points in 40 games for the Spitfires. There are now 11 forwards on the roster, including injured veteran Chris Playfair, so expect another move or two to bring in depth before the deadline. Rychel knows that injuries and suspensions happen so depth is always a welcomed addition this time of year.
Prior to the MacDougall deal, the overage trade deadline passed on Wednesday at noon. While Rychel was engaged in talks, nothing was done and the Spitfires remain with Campbell and rugged defenceman Sean Allen as their current overagers. Both Allen and Campbell bring a world of experience to the roster and will be counted on for leadership into the second half.
Allen, Campbell and the rest of the Spitfires are at home on Thursday night to take on the Firebirds. Then they hop the bus on Friday night for a road game against the Greyhounds. Saturday night, they finish up the weekend on the road against the Saginaw Spirit.
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.