When you have an inexperienced club, the short-term pain comes before the long-term gain. For the Windsor Spitfires, it’s been a theme all season. The result is a tale of two teams, and last weekend was no different. Before the weekend, the Spitfires had near opposite home-and-away records – 13 wins in 22 games at the WFCU Centre, but 13 losses in 21 games on the road. It’s one of the learning curves of the OHL and takes time to figure out.
Unfortunately for the Spitfires, the records held true as the team had some fun at home before finding frustration once they hit the open road.
Savoring the Home Cooking
Colton Incze got the start for the Spitfires on Thursday night as they opened up the weekend against the Erie Otters. One month ago, the Spitfires fell 7-4 at home to the Otters so was a little revenge in store? In more ways than one.
The Spitfires have plenty of toughness, but with six fights all season, fighting majors aren’t expected. However, that all went out the window that night. The teams exchanged pleasantries early as 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward Curtis Douglas dropped the gloves with Otters’ veteran Nick Duff. That was followed soon after by Spitfires defenceman Sean Allen duking it out with Kurtis Henry near center ice. The crowd was right into it.
When the equipment was picked up, the Spitfires had all the momentum and it showed. Goals from Daniel D’Amico and Will Cuylle gave the Spitfires a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. The scoring didn’t stop as the Spitfires added two more in the second and one in the third for a 5-0 win.
Jean-Luc Foudy led everyone with four assists while Douglas picked up a pair of goals in addition to his fight. Incze made 22 saves, some more on the acrobatic side, to earn the shutout and second star. Daniel Murphy made 27 saves in the loss.
The game also marked the return of former Spitfires forward Mathew MacDougall, who was traded a week earlier at the trade deadline. He saw plenty of action but was unable to beat Incze. In six games with the Otters, MacDougall now has one goal.
Road Woes Continue
After the win, the Spitfires hit the 401 for a Friday night showdown against the Kitchener Rangers. Earlier this season, rookie goaltender Kari Piiroinen earned a 3-0 shutout win at the Auditorium in Kitchener, his first career OHL shutout. Things went a bit different this time, however.
The Rangers scored just 14 seconds into the game and had a 2-1 lead after 20, despite being outshot 14-11. Foudy tied it up for the Spitfires early in the second, but the Rangers countered with five straight goals for a commanding 7-2 lead after the second period. Spitfires’ veterans Luke Boka and Chase Campbell added singles with under two minutes to go in the game but it was too little too late.
The Rangers took this one 7-4, and the Spitfires searched for answers as they hopped on the bus. Rangers star Riley Damiani had a career performance with five assists, which put him over the 100-point plateau for his OHL career.
On Sunday evening, the Spitfires traveled to the Dow Event Centre to face the Saginaw Spirit in search for a way to end the weekend on a high note. They fired 45 shots on Spirit goaltender Ivan Prosvetov and did everything they could to avoid the road sweep. It wasn’t enough.
Prosvetov made 44 saves, overshadowing Incze’s 35-save performance. While D’Amico opened the scoring for the Spitfires, the Spirit countered with four straight to take the 4-1 win. Nobody can say the effort wasn’t there. They simply ran into a goaltender who refused to go down.
The Spirit made moves at the deadline to bolster their offence and it has shown. They’ve outscored the Spitfires 10-4 in two games in Saginaw since the deadline.
Tough Knights and Dog Day Ahead
Last weekend was the chance for the Spitfires to really build some momentum and gain points in the standings. They got two against the Otters, but losing to the Rangers and Spirit was tough given the Spitfires’ previous success against them.
Now, they prepare to do battle with the OHL’s elite. Thursday night, the London Knights travel to Windsor with just seven regulation losses all season. The Knights are a well-oiled machine and they beat the Spitfires 8-6 in London just after the Christmas break. The Spitfires’ only win against the Knights was a 2-0 shutout at home in early October.
Then, it’s back on the road again as the Spitfires head to London on Friday night for the second half of the home-and-home. Head coach Trevor Letowski and his team return home Sunday afternoon to face the Niagara Ice Dogs, who have 61 points, good for second in the Eastern Conference.
Normally, Sunday afternoon games are at 2:00 p.m., but this one is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. as it’s the YourTV Hockey Day in the OHL.
There will also be one player missing from the Spitfires’ roster. Overage defenceman Sean Allen will be scratched all weekend after receiving a six-game suspension on Wednesday afternoon for an elbow against the Otters on Thursday. Allen was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct on the play. He’s eligible to return on Feb. 1 when the Spitfires face the Sudbury Wolves on their annual northern road trip.
While the Spitfires have their hands full with two of the league’s elite teams this weekend, the good news is that two of the three games are at home. It’s a bit of home cooking before heading on the road for the always-tough northern swing.
Quick Look at June
While Allen’s news wasn’t great, the team did get some positive news from the NHL. The midterm rankings for the 2019 NHL Draft were released on Monday and four players were listed.
Tyler Angle was the highest-ranked Spitfire at 135 on the North American Skaters list. Louka Henault was next at 163 while D’Amico was right behind him at 164. Piiroinen made the North American Goaltenders list at 18.
After 17 points in 67 games last season, Angle, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2016, has broken out for 13 goals and 30 points in 37 games this season. The forward suffered an injury before Christmas but has since returned and picked up where he left off.
D’Amico is in a similar boat with 41 points in 45 games after 19 points last season in 59 games. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound forward was the Spitfires’ sixth-round pick in 2017 and has an energy on the ice that has become contagious.
Henault, a fifth-round pick in 2017, had just two assists in 42 games in 2017-18. However, the defenceman has come on stronger with two goals and 12 assists in 44 games this season.
Taken in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, Piiroinen started the season off well, allowing three or fewer goals in each of his first four starts. When the Spitfires dealt Michael DiPietro to the Ottawa 67’s in December, he was given the reins. While he’s struggled a bit since the deal, he has an impressive skillset and there’s plenty of optimism going into next season.
Having four players being recognized is a big step for the Spitfires. General manager Warren Rychel has put together a young team, and with some patience, the future looks seriously good.
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.