The Windsor Spitfires have a smile on their faces and who can blame them? When you’ve got a roster that’s clicking, a new player eager to show his talents, and a 10-game point streak, there are few complaints. They went into last weekend looking to show the Ontario Hockey League that they can truly compete and it’s safe to say it was “mission accomplished.”
In the OHL’s Western Conference, there’s no such thing as an easy game. Every team has what it takes to knock you off the pedestal and, while confidence goes a long way, nothing can be taken for granted. When you’re riding a high, though, you do everything possible to keep it going. These points will likely become gold come March.
With a slim lead in the conference, could the #6-ranked team in Canada find a way to keep the ball rolling last weekend?
Resilient Six-Point Weekend
The Spitfires entered their first three-game weekend since early October. While they’ve capitalized on their schedule so far, this would be a tall task.
Thursday night, they welcomed the ninth-place Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to town. Three weeks ago, the Spitfires took a 10-2 emotion-filled win on the road against the Hounds. This game was much closer.
Connor Corcoran had three assists as the Spitfires jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead. The Greyhounds weren’t backing down, though, cutting the lead to 5-3 after 40 minutes.
The Spitfires put up a wall in the third, however, with 2020 NHL Prospect Will Cuylle capping off the 6-3 victory. Goaltender Kari Piiroinen got the win in goal.
Saturday night, the club took their momentum to Saginaw, MI for a match with the Spirit. With a single point separating the clubs, this had a playoff feel from the get-go.
Fortunately for the Spitfires, Piiroinen was a rock again. He made 34 saves, keeping his team at ease. Curtis Douglas led everyone with two points as the Spitfires took the 4-1 win. A four-point weekend is nice but they wanted six!
Sunday afternoon, they finished off the weekend by welcoming the Owen Sound Attack to town. With each club on their third game of the weekend, fatigue came into play.
The Attack took the lead three times, only to see the Spitfires bounce back after each goal. By the third period, it became a battle between Piiroinen and Attack goaltender Mack Guzda. Appropriately, this went into overtime, where the Spitfires had the last laugh. Jean-Luc Foudy took his own rebound behind the net and fired it at a sprawled Guzda, beating him for the 4-3 win. It wasn’t easy but the six-point weekend was big as the Spitfires’ point-streak reached 13 games.
Knights and IceDogs on Tap
It’s tough to deny how valuable Piiroinen was last weekend. He stood on his head with a .929 save percentage and only allowed seven goals in three games. With the Spitfires heading into another crucial weekend, he’ll need to be on his game again.
Friday, they head to London to take on the Knights. A month ago, the Spitfires grabbed a 4-2 win at the Budweiser Gardens in the teams’ only meeting to date this season. The Knights have won 9-of-10, however, sneaking up on the leaders in the standings. It doesn’t get much more classic than this rivalry on a Friday night.
Saturday night, the Spitfires return home to face the Niagara IceDogs. They faced each other two weeks ago in St Catharines; an Ivan Lodnia goal in overtime gave the IceDogs a 2-1 win.
Coming into this weekend, the Spitfires are tied for the fewest games played (21) in the league. They’ve done well but being on top comes with responsibilities. No shift, no period, and no game can be taken off. With five points separating first from sixth in the conference, any slip-up and you’re playing catch-up.
As the Spitfires get ready for Christmas, they know warm greetings will be few-and-far-between. They’re not upset, though. Sometimes, it’s better to be the hunted than the hunters.
Spitfires Bring in Rupoli
On Nov. 9, Spitfires’ defenceman Thomas Stevenson took a bad hit along the end boards. He immediately shook his head and it was obvious something was wrong. Shortly after, he was taken out of the lineup with a concussion and was expected out for 7-to-10 days.
The injury left a gap in the lineup. To address that, last week the Spitfires brought in 19-year-old Joseph Rupoli from the Kitchener Rangers for Guelph’s 12th round pick in 2020.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Rupoli gives the team a gritty leader on the third pairing. He’s played two games with rookie Ruben Rafkin and has not looked out of place.
Once Stevenson returns, it gives the Spitfires plenty of depth heading into the second half. While Rupoli only had 73 games under his belt, he’s known as a take-no-prisoners guy. It’s a low-risk, high-reward move for general manager Bill Bowler. If Rupoli can bring that clear-the-net element the team has lacked, there will be few complaints.
Look for Rupoli to wear #2 against the Knights on Friday. Game time at the Budweiser Gardens is set for 7:30 p.m.