At some point during an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, every team is going to have a slump. What’s important is how you deal with it and push forward. After a late-November speedbump, the Windsor Spitfires have picked themselves up, dusted off, and are charging back with hopes of getting to the top of the Western Conference by the Christmas break.
Last season, the Spitfires took a while to get going but, by this point, had found their way and were showing why they were a legitimate threat. This season, they started off red hot, going 8-0-3-0, but had a 1-4-0-1 stretch in late November that dropped them into the third seed. After an early December three-game sweep, they came into this past weekend looking to build on that. Mission accomplished.
3 Takeaways from 67’s, Otters & Bulldogs
Thurs., Dec. 8 – 5-3 win over Ottawa 67’s (home)
Fri., Dec. 9 – 4-2 win over Erie Otters (road)
Sat., Dec. 10 – 5-3 loss to Hamilton Bulldogs (road)
3. Spitfires’ Depth Invaluable
When head coach Marc Savard joined the club at the start of 2021-22, he immediately implemented offensive systems that were designed to not only create offence but utilize every line. It worked like a charm; the team finished with over 300 goals for the first time since their 2010 Memorial Cup championship.
It’s carried over to this season, leading the league with 127 goals through 28 games (4.55 per game), and they’ve done it with all four lines. Veteran forward Oliver Peer said every line and every player are on the same page.
“We’re playing as a team and we’re playing for each other,” Peer said on Thursday.
“…everybody is contributing, whether they’re getting goals, assists, or blocking shots or making hits.”
On Thursday, the Spitfires faced a powerhouse 67’s club that was second in the league in scoring. Like the Spitfires, the visitors had incredible depth and could throw all four lines at you. However, Savard said that almost makes it easier to plan against.
“I think it makes it easier for guys to know what’s going on when they play the same system,” Savard said. “You could see it tonight; we were on top of pucks and everybody chipped in … When you’re playing like a team, you go in the room after and say ‘this guy was good’ or ‘that guy was good’, but everyone was good tonight.”
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The same could be said for both road games, too. Aside from captain Matthew Maggio scoring six points, seven different forwards contributed to the offence between the two games. Altogether, the team has seven forwards on pace for 50-point seasons. With the holidays approaching, nobody can say the Spitfires need Santa to bring them offensive depth. It’s entertaining and a fantastic asset to have in your back pocket.
2. Finding Their Road Swagger
Thursday’s game against the 67’s (ranked fourth in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL)) was an important measuring stick, but the Spitfires knew that the road trip that followed was just as vital. Games against the Otters at the Erie Insurance Arena have been nothing short of an adventure for the club as they’ve gone 3-3-2-2 there since their 2017 Memorial Cup win. Even though the Otters are lower in the standings, they always give Savard’s club a fit. The same can be said about The FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton. The Bulldogs are rebuilding but this was a rematch of last season’s OHL Championship and you’re not walking out of that arena with any easy points.
While they couldn’t look past a very tough 67’s club, they knew they needed to change their fortunes on the road. After the game, Maggio said the weekend was about redemption.
“We kind of went into this as a revenge kind of weekend,” he said on Thursday. “Ottawa is fourth in the CHL; we had a lot to prove tonight. We know that Erie, in Erie, has been tough for us the last few seasons. It’s easy to get up for that one; we haven’t had success there and we really want to switch it around. With (the Bulldogs), enough said there. We’ve been waiting for this game for a long time.”
The Spitfires came into the road trip just 5-5-1 on the road through 11 games. However, getting the two points over the Otters was big and they were tied with the Bulldogs until late in the third period. That’s a confidence boost. With just one week until the holiday break and less than a month until the January 10 trade deadline, this was a weekend they needed to have.
1. Onuska Finding His Game
This was supposed to be a brilliant swan song for 20-year-old goaltender Mathias Onuska. He came to the Spitfires last season in a deadline deal with the London Knights, won the starter’s role over veteran Xavier Medina, and came to this season’s camp as the clear starter. However, expectations and reality are two different things.
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While Onuska was a rock for the club last season, he came to camp injured, didn’t get into a game until late in the preseason, and has been up and down since opening night. Last season, he allowed four or more goals in just 11-of-26 contests. This season? He was already at nine-of-17 coming into the weekend and they’ve started to rely on 17-year-old rookie Joey Costanzo a bit more. While the youngster has played well, they needed more from the veteran.
Last weekend, Onuska started to turn a corner. In two starts, he combined for four goals on 44 shots; a much-needed confidence boost. This weekend, he allowed just three goals on 35 shots against the 67’s and four on 34 shots against the Bulldogs. He took ownership of his crease and provided the club with the consistency they needed. It also helped them get to within two points of the Saginaw Spirit for the top spot in the conference with two games in hand.
While Costanzo is playing well and earning more ice, Savard needs Onuska to continue to play up to his capabilities. The two could be an outstanding tandem and it would save general manager Bill Bowler some assets at the trade deadline. If what we’ve seen from Onuska over the last couple of weeks can hold up, it will be a huge help for the Spitfires in the second half.
Miedema Named to CHL Top Prospects Game
While the club gets ready for the final weekend before the Christmas break, they got some good news on Monday. Sophomore forward Ethan Miedema is going to represent them on the national stage.
On Monday afternoon, the CHL announced that the 17-year-old Miedema is one of 40 players who will compete in the 2023 Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wed., Jan. 25, 2023. The 6-foot-4, 201-pound winger was selected fourth overall by the Spitfires in the 2021 OHL Draft, thanks in part to the one-time OHL Draft Lottery (due to the COVID-19 stoppage). As a rookie, he had 14 goals and 38 points in 65 games but has shot up to 11 goals and 26 points already this season in 28 games. He’s the first Spitfire to be involved in the event since Will Cuylle and Jean-Luc Foudy took part at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton in 2020.
The annual event is a showcase of the top NHL Draft-eligible prospects from across the CHL. This season, it will be held at the Langley Events Centre in Langley, B.C., home of the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Vancouver Giants. More information will be released closer to the date.