When you’re in a battle to make the playoffs, every point is crucial in the standings. The Windsor Spitfires have found life on the road to be a challenge but they’ve scratched out some points and are now staring at some important home games.
January wasn’t easy for the Spitfires as they played 11 of 18 games on the road. With just five road wins coming into the month, that’s no easy task. Their home record is better with 14 wins in 25 games.
Home cooking is going to be big as the Spitfires spend much of the next three weeks on home ice in a stretch that could make or break the season. First, though, they had to endure one more weekend that started at home but finished with their suitcases packed.
Not So Spirited Affair
Thursday night saw a Western Division battle as the Spitfires welcomed the Saginaw Spirit to town. Rookie goaltender Kari Piiroinen took the net for the Spitfires, while the Spirit countered with Arizona Coyotes’ prospect Ivan Prosvetov. The Spirit loaded up at the trade deadline and had won two-straight against the Spitfires, both in Saginaw. However, the Spitfires had won all three match-ups at home.
Which trend would continue?
The Spirit fired 19 shots on Piiroinen though the first 40 minutes while the Spitfires countered with 21 of their own. However, only Prosvetov remained perfect. Cole Coskey and Brady Gilmour gave the Spirit a 2-0 lead after two periods.
Prosvetov had struggled at the end of January with three straight games of at least four goals against. However, six days before this game, he had a 33-save performance against the Flint Firebirds and the momentum kept going. The Spitfires pressed but had issues getting anything past the Coyotes’ prospect.
While Spitfires’ rookie Jean-Luc Foudy finally managed to cut the deficit to 2-1 early in the third period, that was all they could do. The Spirit added two more before the buzzer for the 4-1 win. Prosvetov made 31 saves to give him 26 wins on the season.
— Saginaw Spirit (@SpiritHockey) February 8, 2019
It clearly wasn’t the start to the weekend that the Spitfires wanted but they had a chance at redemption on the road against the Erie Otters. The Spitfires beat the Otters 5-0 at home in January and history nearly repeated itself.
Road Wounds Build Character
Head coach Trevor Letowski put veteran Colton Inze in the net on Saturday night to change up the pace. It seemed to work as timely goaltending and offence helped the Spitfires grab the 3-1 lead after two periods.
The Erie Insurance Arena is one of those places where no lead is safe, though, and it showed. The Otters scored twice in 22 seconds midway through the third period to take the game into extra time.
When overtime solved nothing, the teams went toe-to-toe in a crazy nine-round shootout. Emmett Sproule finally beat Incze in the ninth round, sending the Otters’ faithful home happy and getting the extra point for his club. It wasn’t the ideal ending for the Spitfires but at least they got a point out of it.
Sunday afternoon, Letowski and his crew headed up to Mississauga to face the Steelheads, who beat the Spitfires 9-5 in Windsor on New Years’ Eve.
This didn’t have nearly the same offence as both teams struggled to light the lamp. Incze returned to the net and put on a show, making 45 saves through regulation. On the other end, Jacob Ingham made 24 saves. It would have been 25 but Spitfires’ veteran Cole Purboo scored with 2:25 left to force overtime. The teams were tied at two.
Incze made six saves in the extra frame and another shootout was needed. This one wasn’t as exciting, though. It lasted the minimum three rounds as former Spitfire forward Cole Carter scored the lone goal to give the Steelheads the 3-2 win.
Two points in two games aren’t what the Spitfires had hoped for, especially in a playoff battle. However, they took two road games to a shootout, which has to be considered as a positive.
Remembering Their Captain
With the stretch of road games behind them, it’s time to focus on the next month. The Spitfires play seven of their next nine games at home – this is what they have been waiting for. It’s time for some comfort and home cooking. After last weekend, the Spitfires sit one point up on the Otters, who have two games in hand.
First up is a home-and-home series with the Sarnia Sting on Thursday and Friday nights. The teams have split a pair at the WFCU Centre – a Spitfires’ win and a Sting overtime win – while the Sting won their only game in Sarnia.
The Spitfires then close the weekend out with a very special game on Monday afternoon against the Owen Sound Attack. It’s a day that will forever live on in the hearts of Windsorites and those around the OHL.
Monday marks the 11-year anniversary of the passing of former Spitfires’ captain Mickey Renaud. On Feb. 18, 2008, Renaud collapsed at his home in Tecumseh before a Family Day Skate at the old Windsor Arena with the team and fans. Despite all efforts to resuscitate him, Renaud passed away shortly after.
The death sent shockwaves through the hockey community. Renaud was later diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – it causes the walls of the heart muscles to thicken, which can lead to issues with pumping blood and, eventually, heart failure.
Every season since Renaud’s death, the Spitfires have played on Feb. 18 to honour their fallen captain.
During the game, the Spitfires will present the Sutherland Global Services Mickey Renaud Memorial Scholarship. It’s given annually to one male and one female student-athlete that best demonstrate hard work, leadership and dedication both in their studies and athletics.
First Responders Night
The Spitfires also announced on Tuesday that a very special group will be honoured by the team early in March.
On Mar. 3, the Spitfires will wear special jerseys as they honour first responders from Windsor and Essex County during their game against the Kingston Frontenacs. The game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off after the event.
We've got another very cool theme night coming up with another great jersey.
Sunday, March 3rd, we honour the brave first responders of Windsor-Essex wearing these!
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) February 12, 2019
Honouring local heroes and charities is something the Spitfires are passionate about. Earlier this season, they held a Superhero Night in honour of the Fight Like Mason Foundation and auctioned off game-worn jerseys. Proceeds from ticket sales and the jersey auction went to the foundation.
With so little wiggle room in the standings, this isn’t going to be an easy stretch for the Spitfires. However, with so much to play for, this is where they show what the season’s worth of hard work has been about.
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.