Being in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference means bringing your A-game every night is a requirement. After losing two straight to end November, the Windsor Spitfires hoped to start December on a positive note, getting a teddy bear boost in the process.
While they’ve had a successful first half, including a 13-game point streak in October and November, the reality of the situation is settling in. The conference is incredibly tight and, with just five games left before Santa visits, giving up points isn’t an option. You need to set yourself up for success once the second half starts.
Could the Spitfires hold their own in the conference race or was the Grinch looking to pay a visit?
Spitfires’ Early Weekend Woes
After shutting out the Saginaw Spirit 3-0 on the road a week before, the teams got ready for the rematch on Thursday night at the WFCU Centre. With goaltender Kari Piiroinen gone to Finland for the 2020 World Juniors, the Spitfires started rookie Xavier Medina with newly-signed Matt Tovell backing him up.
While the game started off quietly, a four-goal outburst in the final four minutes of the first period made it a 2-2 draw after 20. The teams then split a pair of goals before regulation ended, forcing overtime.
In the extra frame, the Spirit were awarded a rare penalty shot; Josh Bloom made no mistake on Medina, grabbing the 4-3 win. While it wasn’t the two points the Spitfires wanted, a point still matters and they were off to Guelph for a Friday night showdown with the Storm.
The Storm had won five of seven coming into the game and were sitting atop the conference. Medina got the call for the Spitfires while the Storm, missing veteran Nico Daws to Team Canada, started rookie Owen Bennett.
Unlike Thursday’s game, the offence started quick and didn’t let up. Unfortunately for the Spitfires, they were on the wrong end more times than not.
Pavel Gogolev opened the scoring for the Storm just 49 seconds in and, try as they might, the Spitfires simply couldn’t keep up. A 2-0 lead became a 3-1 lead, a 5-3 lead, and a 6-3 final. Bennett was a rock in the third period, stopping 15 of 16 shots for 35 saves overall.
Have no fear, though. Sunday was Teddy Bear Toss at the WFCU Centre. That had to be motivation for the Spitfires, right?
Bears Flying Against Knights
There are few things in hockey as awesome as the Teddy Bear Toss. Each season, every team in the OHL (and most leagues, really) pick a game where fans can bring a new stuffed animal to the rink. When the home team scores their first goal, fans throw the animals onto the ice and they’re collected for children’s charity.
Sunday afternoon, the Spitfires welcomed the London Knights into town for the annual teddy toss. Fans didn’t have to wait long for the fur to fly.
Just three minutes into the game, 20-year-old captain Luke Boka made his way to the slot and put home a one-timer to give his club the 1-0 lead. Over 2,700 bears came flying from the stands as the Spitfires, a few Knights, and dozens of volunteers hit the ice for the annual celebration.
After the ice was cleaned, the Spitfires continued their attack. They scored three more times before the 10-minute mark, chasing starter Dylan Myskiw. It was 4-1 after 20 minutes.
The Knights aren’t a team to roll over, though. They scored two of the next three goals, reducing the deficit to 5-3 after 40 minutes. Fortunately for the Spitfires, 2020 NHL prospect Jean-Luc Foudy scored his 11th of the season midway through the third period to seal the 6-3 win.
Having the Knights come within a couple of goals wasn’t in the Spitfires’ plans but it’s a part of hockey. Closing out the game and getting the win is what matters.
The win got the Spitfires to within two points of the Spirit for tops in the division, with four games-in-hand. They’re also just three points out of the conference lead with three games-in-hand.
Weekend Before Christmas
It’s the week before Christmas and all through the rink, the Spitfires are preparing for final pre-holiday sync. The jerseys were hung in the lockers with care in hopes that four points would soon be there!
Thursday night, Thomas Harley and the Mississauga Steelheads come to town for their only meeting in Windsor. The Steelheads have scored the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference this season (99) but beat the Spitfires 4-3 at home in October.
Wrapping up the first half, the Spitfires head to Sarnia on Friday night to take on the Sting. The teams split their three games at the Progressive Auto Insurance Arena last season, 1-1-1, and the Spitfires won their only meeting this season, 8-5 at home.
Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski cannot let his club take this weekend lightly. While the Sting and Steelheads are near the bottom of the standings, they have to be treated like contenders. Anything else and you risk losing valuable points which will be tough to make up once the second half starts. There will be no holiday greetings exchanged.
Cuylle and Foudy Honoured
The Spitfires got some good news on Monday afternoon. Foudy and forward Will Cuylle were named to the 2020 CHL Top Prospects Game, which takes place on Jan. 16 in Hamilton. Each season, the top 40 prospects for the NHL Draft are split up into two teams so scouts can how they fare against elite competition.
Both Foudy and Cuylle were listed as “A-rated” players on the NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch List for November. They’ll be among 17 OHL players in the game, including Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves) and Jamie Drysdale (Erie Otters).
Foudy was the Spitfires’ first-round pick, 10th overall, in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. He has 11 goals and 26 points in 28 games and is rated as high as 18th by Future Considerations.
Cuylle was the Peterborough Petes’ first-round pick, third overall, in 2018. He has 20 points in 28 games and has been rated as high as 14th by NHL.com. The 2020 NHL Draft takes place June 26-27 in Montreal.