As the Windsor Spitfires push past the 50-game mark of their 68-game 2022-23 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) schedule, they’re finding that nothing can be taken for granted. This past weekend, the past met the future as they honoured a fallen captain while preparing for a gruelling final stretch to the playoffs.
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When general manager Bill Bowler built this club, including several moves at the January trade deadline, the idea was to get back to the OHL Championship after losing in Game 7 last season. However, as deep and talented as this team is, they’re realizing that talent alone doesn’t win games and being at the top can be quite lonely. This past weekend, they had two big tests at home and a monumental one on the road. They honoured their “captain forever”, grabbed five-of-six points, and got ready for a very busy final month of the regular season. Here are three takeaways from the 2023 Family Day weekend.
3 Takeaways from Firebirds, Steelheads, and Knights
Thurs., Feb. 16 – 6-5 OT win over Flint Firebirds (home)
Sat., Feb. 18 – 3-2 OT win over Mississauga Steelheads (home)
Mon., Feb. 20 – 4-3 OT loss to London Knights (road)
3. Spitfires Remember Fallen Captain 15 Years Later
Monday, Feb. 18, 2008, is forever etched in the minds of Spitfires fans and the City of Windsor. That was Family Day in Ontario and the club was getting ready for an event with fans at the old Windsor Arena. However, a fantastic day quickly turned tragic.
Related: Saying Goodbye to an OHL Original: Windsor Arena
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While getting ready at home with teammates, captain Mickey Renaud (Calgary Flames), 19, suddenly collapsed and passed away. It was determined that he had an undetected heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, where the heart walls thicken and reduce blood flow. It’s a leading cause of cardiac arrest in athletes under 35.
The organization, the City of Windsor, and the OHL did numerous tributes including the Spitfires retiring his No. 18, a WFCU Centre concourse memorial, the OHL’s Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, and the club playing each season on Feb. 18. This season’s opponent was the Mississauga Steelheads.
Before the game, the Spitfires watched videos to learn about the tragedy as most were very young at the time. In a pre-game on-ice ceremony, billets, team staff, owners, and Renaud’s parents came out. The players hugged their billets while captain Matthew Maggio, who’s from Tecumseh (Windsor suburb), and veteran Colton Smith, who’s from Windsor, also hugged Renaud’s parents. Smith has known the family since he was young and said he still has memories of Renaud.
“My dad (D.J.) coached him and we named my younger brother after him,” Smith said. “I wore 18 my whole life after he passed away and this season (in Windsor) it’s retired (now wears 61). I’ve known his parents for quite a bit now … There are some vivid memories; I remember being in their house with him. He used to babysit me along with his sister, Penny.”
Appropriately, Smith scored the opening goal. Renaud was likely smiling down.
2. “Pretty Points” Don’t Exist
Whether you’re fighting for the top spot in the conference, getting home ice in the first round, or just getting into the playoffs, a single point could change everything. That’s why it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you get the two points.
All season, the Spitfires have prided themselves on a high-octane offence. That often means pretty offensive plays and high-scoring contests. However, when the buzzer sounds, you don’t get any “pretty points”; the grinding wins in the trenches mean just as much as the blowout wins. The club knows that, for the rest of the season, everything is earned as teams fight for playoff positioning. This was the case in each game on the weekend. On Thursday, head coach Marc Savard said “it’s going to be tough here on in … there are no easy nights.”
Veteran forward Alex Christopoulos agreed. He said that being near the top means everyone wants to take you out.
“Coming into (Thursday’s) game, we knew it would be a battle, especially after dominating them last game,” he said. “We knew they’d be hungry and wanting one back … Everyone’s going to want to come and beat us since we’re (near) first in the West. They’re going to bring their battle every game and we have to know that.”
If nothing else, it means incredibly entertaining hockey to watch. With 14 games left, every period, every game, and every point will mean a lot.
1. “X” is Just the Start
No matter where you are in the standings, it’s a neat feeling when you finally clinch a playoff spot. While the Spitfires have been at (or near) the top of the Western Conference all season, they were able to ensure that their season will extend beyond the 68 games… with a little help from some foes.
The Spitfires were idle on Friday night, but the Kitchener Rangers were battling the ninth-place Soo Greyhounds, who came into the night 31 points back of the Spitfires with 16 games remaining. Any loss of points by the Greyhounds would give Savard’s club the big “X” next to their name.
That’s exactly what happened as the Rangers took a commanding 10-2 win at the GFL Memorial Gardens in Sault Ste. Marie. With the loss, the Spitfires clinched while the Greyhounds fell further back of the Rangers for that final playoff spot.
However, the job is far from done. After losing Game 7 of last season’s OHL Championship on the road, the club wants first overall. It’s a tall task but now they head into a three-game road trip just three points back of the Ottawa 67’s, who lead the Eastern Conference and OHL. The two will play on Friday night in a rematch from early December where the Spitfires took a 5-3 win on home ice.
As the Spitfires come down the stretch, they’re now tied with the Knights for first in the Western Conference with 14 games left. The playoff berth is great but now the vision gets bigger – the Western Conference and OHL regular season titles. With a 22-3-2-1 home record (best in the OHL), you can’t blame them for wanting home ice throughout the playoffs. Let the games begin!