If things look a bit chaotic around the WFCU Centre in Windsor, you can’t blame them. Playing three games in three days is normal for the Windsor Spitfires. Having all three at home, during a playoff race and with a jersey retirement? This was one for the ages.
After a 3-1 loss on the road to the London Knights last Monday, the Spitfires were looking forward to some home cooking. They opened the weekend on Thursday night as they welcomed the Ottawa 67s to town.
Spitfires Edge 67s
If you’re looking for high-tempo, high-scoring hockey, this game wasn’t for you. The 67s, dressed in their famous barber pole jerseys, gave the Spitfires a tight-checking contest. Spitfires’ goaltender Michael DiPietro and 67s goaltender Olivier Tremblay did their best impressions of brick walls for over 40-minutes.
While defensive battles can get boring, as the game wore on, it made the potential opening goal that much bigger.
It took until the third period for that to happen. Over half-way through the third, to be exact. Spitfires’ rookie Daniel D’Amico finally beat Tremblay at 10:53 to give the Spitfires a 1-0 lead. Shortly after, forward Luke Boka put the Spits up by a pair with just over eight minutes remaining.
Sasha Chmelevski got the 67s to within one with over six minutes to go, but that’s all they could muster. DiPietro held the fort for the Spitfires as Windsor took the 2-1 win over the 67s.
Hounds Experience Overpowers Spitfires
Friday was a rest day for the Spitfires, but they would need all the rest they could get. The league-leading Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were in town on Saturday and this would be a measuring stick for the Spitfires.
The Hounds came in with six regulation losses all season. When you’re winning at an 86.4-percent clip, good luck to the opposition. It’s almost the perfect chance for the Spitfires. No pressure, right?
Spits’ forward Igor Larionov used that and opened the scoring just 2:41 into the first period. Experienced teams find a way to snuff momentum, though. The Hounds got two goals before the 10-minute mark to give them a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.
While the Spitfires got the tying marker late in the second period, Hounds’ forward Boris Katchouk took over in the third. He scored his second-and-third-goals of the game to give the Greyhounds a 4-2 win.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Hounds took the win, but it was a moral victory for the Spitfires. They went toe-to-toe with the best Canada could offer and they even outshot the Hounds 24-17. Moral victories don’t get you two points but they sure help the confidence.
Hall Jersey Raised
There was little time to dwell on the loss Saturday night as the Spitfires went home, got some rest and came right back to the arena for a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Erie Otters.
This was a big day that had been planned for a while – former Spitfires’ star Taylor Hall was getting his #4 jersey retired.
A nearly sold-out crowd (capacity 6,500 – announced 6,466) lined-up by the hundreds at every gate well before the doors opened at 1 pm. They were hoping for a chance to get a Taylor Hall Bobblehead and an autograph from the New Jersey Devils’ forward before the ceremony.
Hallways were crammed with wide-eyed faces as Hall signed books and jerseys and took selfies with fans.
Hall said the fans have always been great.
“The fans were amazing,” Hall told the media before he joined the fans.
“The support we had throughout our playoff runs, throughout everything, was great. The sense of community here in Windsor is always something that I’ve sensed. It’s always fun to come back here with them.”
Hall added that it was great having his parents and former billets there with him for the ceremony. Every time he’s in Windsor, he’s reminded of how much fun they had.
“We were 16-and-17-year-old kids, we were away from home, just having the time of our lives,” he said.
“That was so fun to grow up with the group of guys like that. To have mentors and coaches like Bob Boughner, Warren Rychel, DJ Smith and Bob Jones, these guys were awesome for us … Them preparing us for the pros, that’s really what I remember the most. Learning from them, becoming a better hockey player day-by-day. You don’t really face the business aspect of hockey as much in junior hockey and that was a lot of fun.”
After the autographs and fan photos were done, Hall made his way to the ice to see his old billets, his parents and the Spitfires’ management.
During his speech to the crowd, Hall recalled his time in Windsor, including his Memorial Cups, and thanked all of those who were a part of his path. He even talked about how one player really influenced him.
“There was one dude in particular, nice as could be,” Hall told the crowd.
“He was a big, strong local kid. He was named our team captain in my first season. His name was Mickey Renaud. There may be guys that played longer and spent more time with him, but in an era where older guys were supposed to give the younger guys a hard time, he couldn’t have been nicer. It’s an honour to be alongside him tonight.”
Once the speeches were completed, Hall’s #4 jersey was raised to the WFCU Centre rafters, joining former greats like Renaud, Ed Jovanovski and Bill Bowler.
Big Points on the Line
After the ceremony, it was down to business.
While the game against the Hounds was a measuring stick for the Spitfires, Sunday afternoon’s game against the Erie Otters was crucial to the standings.
Coming into the game, the Spitfires sat nine-points up on the Otters for the eighth playoff spot. Erie had nine games left while Windsor had 10. An 11-point lead for the Spitfires looked a lot better than seven.
The packed house had to wait a bit for the first Spitfires’ goal. Otters’ forward Kyle Maksimovich opened the scoring at the four-minute mark, but it took another 12-minutes for the Spitfires to respond.
When they did, though, they didn’t let up. Tyler Angle tied the game at one late in the first and the Spitfires’ put four more past goaltender Daniel Murphy as time went on. What started as a 1-0 Otters’ lead turned into a 5-1 Spitfires’ domination after two periods.
The Spitfires and Otters each knotted a pair of goals in the third period as the Spitfires rolled to a 7-3 win. Murphy played all 60-minutes for the Otters, despite seven goals against, while DiPietro made 27-saves for the Spitfires in the win.
Multiple Spitfires had multi-point games, including Angle, Igor Larionov and Cody Morgan. Both Larionov and Morgan had big weekends, with Larionov scoring four-points in three games and Morgan adding three-points in three games.
Chasing The Big X
With the win, the Spitfires sit 11-points up on the ninth-place Otters and have a game-in-hand in the standings. The Spits are now also tied with the Guelph Storm for seventh-place in the conference at 61-points apiece. They’re only one-point back of the Saginaw Spirit for sixth.
The magic number for the Spitfires to clinch now stands at three. Any combination of three wins or three Erie losses and the Spitfires will get that ever-coveted playoff “X” next to their name in the standings.
Nothing gets easier for the Spitfires, though. They welcome the last-place Sudbury Wolves to town on Thursday as the Wolves try to snap a seven-game losing streak. Then, the Spitfires hit the road for games in Saginaw and Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. A bit of home cooking did the team well this past weekend. Another four-point weekend would do the team even better, though, and could stamp their ticket to the post-season dance.
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.