Being in contention is a daunting task and the Windsor Spitfires found that out the hard way to start December. After being ranked third in Canada two weeks ago, they lost two straight, ending their 13-game point streak. Last weekend, they looked to start a new streak and now get ready for one of the most entertaining games of the season.
Adversity in sports is a necessary evil. You’re going to lose some games; it’s just reality. Despite being ranked third overall in Canada, the Spitfires knew they still had issues and work to do. Two straight losses weren’t in the plans but it’s the cards they were given.
With a two-game weekend on tap, could they recover and get back on track?
Finn-ishing Weekend with a Bang
After losing to the London Knights and Niagara IceDogs a week earlier, the Spitfires didn’t want to let this slide consume them.
Thursday night, they welcomed the Kitchener Rangers to town, the club who beat them just prior to their long streak. Despite the Rangers being down in the standings, these were two evenly matched teams.
They combined for just 14 shots in the first period, feeling each other out a bit. Will Cuylle had the lone goal, giving the Spitfires the 1-0 lead. While Connor Corcoran quickly made the lead 2-0 in the second, the Rangers weren’t going away.
The Rangers scored four of the next five goals, including Francesco Pinelli’s eighth of the season with five minutes remaining, to take a stunning 4-3 win. There were plenty of disappointed faces at the final buzzer.
This isn’t how the Spitfires wanted to answer the bell following the previous weekend. With three-straight losses now, they couldn’t let it fester. It was off to Saginaw on Saturday night, hoping to get back on track.
Finnish import Kari Piiroinen got the start for the Spitfires and the team gave him all kinds of help. They jumped out to a 16-6 shot lead after 20 minutes and never really looked back. A goal in each period, combined with Piiroinen making 23 saves, led to a 3-0 win. It was a true 60-minute effort.
This was the win they needed; shutting out a division rival, on the road, was a huge momentum boost. With a busy weekend on tap, the last thing they needed was a four-game losing streak on the mind.
The Teddies Are Coming
The Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference is close with just 10 points separating first and eighth. While the Spitfires sit in fourth, five points back of the Guelph Storm, they have at least three games-in-hand on every club ahead of them. They cannot let those go to waste.
Thursday night, they welcome the Saginaw Spirit back to town for another rematch. While the Spitfires have won two-straight against them, both on the road, they lost their lone match at the WFCU Center in a dramatic overtime game.
Friday night, they hit the road for the Sleeman Center in Guelph in a match with the Storm. It’s their first meeting of the season and bound to be a doozy!
Sunday is the big one, though. It’s the London Knights and important in the standings, but the game takes on a bigger purpose. The Spitfires will host their annual Teddy Bear Toss.
Every season, teams throughout the OHL (and hockey, really) select one home game where fans can bring a new stuffed animal. When the home team scores their first goal, fans throw the animals on the ice, which are then collected and given to children’s charities for Christmas. It’s one of the best games of the season.
Last season, the Spitfires collected 4,238 bears, which means a lot of smiling kids at Christmas. That’s what it’s all about!!
With three games on tap and just five left before the Christmas break, the points are necessary now. Teams will be loading up for a run in the second half and the Spitfires can’t afford to fall behind the pack.
The CHL Top-10 Rankings came out on Wednesday afternoon and the Spitfires fell to an “Honourable Mention” status. They’ll need a big weekend if they want to stay on the list for another week.
Spitfires Sign Tovell
The Spitfires are going to be without Piiroinen for a bit, too. The 18-year-old goaltender is off to Finland to try out for their 2020 World Juniors team. He’s one of three goaltenders looking for a spot. This year’s event takes place in the Czech Republic from Dec. 26 – Jan. 5. There are no guarantees that Piiroinen makes the team but the Finns have carried three goaltenders on numerous occasions.
In his absence, the Spitfires have signed 17-year-old Matthew Tovell. The Shannonville, ON-native was the team’s second-round pick in the 2019 Under-18 Draft. He has been playing with the Lakeshore Canadiens, where he had a 1.15 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
Rookie Xavier Medina is expected to get the majority of starts but Tovell could get a game or two to get his feet wet. He was excellent in training camp and the team has high hopes for him.
If Piiroinen makes Team Finland, he could be gone for up to 11 games, which is a lot to pin on Medina. Should Tovell play a game, he would be the first player from the Under-18 Draft to ever play for the Spitfires. Medina and Tovell will get their first test on Thursday night. Puck drop is 7:05 p.m.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.