What started as a promising weekend for the Windsor Spitfires turned into a head-scratcher as they hit the road. After their long Eastern road trip last weekend, the Spitfires needed some positives. The results were mixed.
The team played at home on Thursday night against the Barrie Colts before finishing on the road against the Niagara Ice Dogs and Erie Otters. Both the Colts and Ice Dogs are battling for top spot in the Central Division while the Otters are just hoping to get into the Western Conference playoff race.
Playing at home had been sweet living for the Spitfires as they came into the weekend with three wins in five games. Unfortunately, the road had been rather cruel with just one win in four games. This weekend proved much of the same.
Spitfires’ Home Sweet Home
On Thursday night, captain Luke Boka and the Spitfires welcomed the Colts into the WFCU Centre for their only meeting in Windsor this season.
As the home team, you want to get the first goal. That didn’t happen. Colts’ forward Luke Bignell parked himself in front of goaltender Michael DiPietro and tipped the puck over his glove late in the first to give the Colts a 1-0 lead. The lead didn’t last long. Spitfires’ veteran Luke Kutkevicius got involved in a crease battle and poked home his third of the season less than a minute into the second period. However, any momentum from that goal was quickly silenced, as Bignell and Ben Hawerchuk scored 1:48 apart to give the Colts a two-goal cushion.
Never count the Spitfires out of a home game, though. Despite the Colts throwing plenty of rubber on DiPietro, the Spitfires found their shot. Daniel D’Amico came out of the penalty box, took a pass near the Colts’ blue line and found the twine behind goaltender Jet Greaves to cut the lead to 3-2.
An early third-period power play goal by Spitfires’ veteran Connor Corcoran, plus a water-bottle job by Chris Playfair three minutes later and it became a whole new game with the Spitfires up 4-3. The Colts tried getting shots on DiPietro but Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski has worked a defence-first system that was up to the challenge.
DiPietro made 27 saves as the Spitfires took a big two points from the Colts in a 4-3 win.
Despite only seeing each other twice, there weren’t many friendly greetings. Emotions disturbed the game several times and boiled over after the final buzzer. What started as a pushing match in DiPietro’s crease turned into a melee. The scrum ended with Spitfires captain, Boka squaring-off with Colts veteran Joey Keane near the Spitfires’ bench. The Spitfires were visibly pumped but it didn’t prevent the league from suspending Boka and Keane two games each for fighting outside of a period.
Ice Dogs Show Their Bite
The Spitfires were without Boka as they hit the road on Friday. For some reason, the Spitfires and Niagara region don’t get along. The last time the Spitfires won on the road against the Ice Dogs was 2010-11 (4-3 in a shootout). Since then, they have a 0-5-1-1 record, with five one-goal losses. You can guess where this one is headed.
The game had a better start than against the Colts as forward Chris Playfair took the puck in front of Ice Dogs’ goaltender Stephen Dhillon early in the first, got his own rebound and put the Spitfires up 1-0. Before the end of the period, though, the Ice Dogs tied it up on a Billy Constantinou goal.
The teams split a pair in the second frame. A scramble in front of Spitfires’ goaltender Kari Piiroinen gave the Ice Dogs a 2-1 lead but Spitfires forward Mathew MacDougall put a dipsy-doodle move on Dhillon on the power play and the teams were all tied up again.
The third period was much of the same. Akil Thomas gave the Ice Dogs a power-play goal midway through the third, however, Jordan Frasca tied it up for Windsor with three minutes to go in the game. Overtime loomed, or so they thought. Philip Tomasino parked himself in front of Piiroinen, took a pass, made a little shimmy shake and slid it past Piiroinen with 1:36 left. That was the game-winner as the Ice Dogs took it 4-3.
While Piiroinen allowed four goals, it’s tough to point the finger at him when the Ice Dogs had 44 shots on net, including 17 in the third period. The Ice Dogs knew to get the puck on the rookie goaltender and the Spitfires did their best to stay in the game. It wasn’t meant to be and the Spitfires’ losing streak in the Niagara region reached eight games.
Spitfires’ Not-So-Fun Day
The Erie Insurance Arena is one of the tougher barns to play in if you’re a road team. The fans are passionate, loud and relentless. Plus, the Otters have routinely given the Spitfires fits, regardless of their position in the standings. Since 2014-15, the teams have had six straight games decided by two-or-fewer goals. Would the trend continue on this Sunday afternoon?
Just under two minutes into the game, DiPietro made his way to the bench on a delayed Otters penalty. Spitfires rookie Jean-Luc Foudy lost control of the puck in front of the open cage and it found the net. The surprise own-goal (counted as an “empty net goal”) gave the Otters a 1-0 lead.
Another Spitfires rookie, Will Cuylle, tied it up at one before the period ended. The teams each found the net in the second period, as well as the third period, to make it a 3-3 game after 60-minutes. Foudy redeemed himself, after the own-goal, by getting an assist on the team’s second goal; chalk it up to a learning experience.
Despite each team earning power play time in the extra frame, nobody lit the lamp and they were off to a shootout, which was the Spitfires’ first of the season. The teams exchanged goals – Cody Morgan for the Spitfires and Danial Singer for the Otters – before Otters veteran Gera Poddubnyi won it in the fourth round. The Otters took the game with yet another 4-3 win.
Learning from Weekend Wounds
A win to start the weekend is nice. Getting just one point over the next two road games means there are issues that still need to be looked at. Giving up the lead in the third period and allowing 44 shots in a game shouldn’t happen. This isn’t an easy process and it will take time. In the meanwhile, it helps to note some positives.
Letowski’s team started with a come-from-behind win at home against a hard-nosed Colts team. That’s something positive to build on. Then, the Spitfires went into Niagara and went toe-to-toe with a solid Ice Dogs team despite 44 shots against. So, it’s not all doom-and-gloom.
However, you can’t ignore the areas of concern. This is a chance for the veterans to step up, the rookies to learn and the coaches to implement their systems while showing confidence in the group. Letowski and his staff have put the systems in place and, while some of it could be tweaked, none of it is new.
Next weekend won’t be any easier. They welcome the 8-3-2 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the WFCU Centre on Thursday before a rematch with the Colts in Barrie on Saturday and an afternoon tilt in Owen Sound against the Attack on Sunday. The Attack thrives at home with a 5-1-0-1 record this season and 30 goals scored.
The good news for the Spitfires is that after the game in Owen Sound, they play five of their next six games at home. Going on the road is nice for team bonding but nothing beats a little home-cookin’.
While getting four or five points last weekend would have helped, the three points earned mean there are good areas and areas to work on. The leaders must step up and the team must learn from their weekend wounds. Plus, Boka will be back in the lineup on Thursday, which helps.
We’re a month into the OHL season. There’s no need to worry, Spitfires fans… yet.