Nobody said staying near the top of the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference would be easy. It shouldn’t be, either. The Windsor Spitfires have welcomed the challenge and are consistently finding ways to get past hurdles. After another tough weekend, including the end of one Iron Man streak, they get ready for a giant storm that’s brewing.
In 2016-17, the Spitfires finished in fifth place in the conference with 90 points. It was a near-record setting performance by five clubs. This season, four teams are on pace for that 90-point mark with just a handful of points separating them. You can’t let your guard down or have an off night.
Needless to say, each win is a pretty big deal.
Douglas Delivers Star Performances
When the Spitfires acquired 6-foot-9, 236-pound forward Curtis Douglas from the Barrie Colts for Aaron Luchuk in Dec. 2017, they expected big things… no pun intended.
The goal was consistent offence and a leader on-and-off the ice. It’s becoming a reality. As the Spitfires head into the playoff stretch, Douglas has ramped up his game with 10 points in his last nine outings. That trend continued last weekend.
On Saturday night, the team welcomed the Erie Otters into town, a team battling to stay in the playoff race. The Spitfires started off quick, too, as defenceman Ruben Rafkin scored his second of the season less than two minutes in.
While the Otters tied it up in the second period, Douglas continued his hot play. He sniped the puck high glove on goaltender Aidan Campbell, giving his club a 2-1 lead. The teams then exchanged a pair of goals each, giving the Spitfires a hard-earned 4-3 win.
The team had no rest, though, as the Saginaw Spirit were in town on Sunday afternoon. With a dozen NHL prospects and draft hopefuls on the rosters, plenty of NHL scouts and executives were in the crowd.
The Spirit opened the scoring early in the first period, but the Spitfires responded with four of their own within 20 minutes. Everyone was getting into the act, including rookies Wyatt Johnston and Pasquale Zito, chasing starter Tristan Lennox.
While the Spirit cut the lead to 4-3 early in the third, Douglas was at it again. The Dallas Stars prospect crashed the net, burying his 18th of the season. That was your final — 5-3 Spitfires.
The three-point weekend gave Douglas 37 points in 41 games while the win got the Spitfires to within a point of the Kitchener Rangers for first in the conference.
Purboo Streak Ends
While Douglas had a big weekend, another Spitfire wasn’t as lucky. The infamous Cole Purboo Iron Man streak is done.
Saturday night, Purboo took a hit against the Otters. Try as he might, it was bad enough that he was forced out of Sunday’s lineup. His streak of 244-straight games came to an end.
Drafted in the ninth round in 2015, Purboo used his work ethic to force himself onto a roster spot in 2016-17. Since then, nothing has kept him out of the lineup, catapulting him into the top-20 all-time games played for the Spitfires.
When Purboo’s name was announced as a scratch, an audible gasp was heard throughout the WFCU Centre. Kyle McDonald took his spot in the lineup, scoring the Spitfires’ third goal.
There’s no word on whether Purboo will play in the Spitfires’ next game but it’s better to be healthy for the playoffs than risk any further damage.
Foudy v. Foudy
To this point, the Spitfires have had a relatively easy schedule. That’s going to change really quick. They’re tied for the fewest games played in the OHL with 41 and now get ready for their final two-game weekend of the season.
It starts on Thursday night as they welcome the rival London Knights to town. With the Spitfires just three points ahead in the standings, and the teams combining for a 16-3-1 record in their last 20, this is going to be the game to watch.
The Spitfires are 2-1 against them this season, winning once in each building. With a combined 12 players drafted and nine on the NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings, what more could you ask for?
It also marks another round in the classic Foudy bros. battle — Jean-Luc (Spitfires) v. Liam (Knights). While Liam, 19, is a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect, Jean-Luc, 17, is a top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft. In two games head-to-head this season, each player has two points.
After this battle, the team gets two days to rest before heading to Sarnia on Sunday to face the rebuilding Sting.
This is an important weekend, not only for the standings but for momentum. Every weekend from here-on-out will have three games, which is grueling on the body. It’s a test everyone knew was coming. They’ll need to pass with flying colours if they want to remain near the top of the conference standings.