Windsor Spitfires’ Weekly: 4 Points, Lessons, and Rychel Returns

Tough lessons are a part of hockey. The Windsor Spitfires have started the 2019-20 season with optimism, confidence, and points, but also some speedbumps along the way. After a tricky, but successful weekend, they now get ready for another big test while welcoming back a familiar face in the process.

Coming off of a 9-6 win against the Peterborough Petes in their home opener, the Spitfires were confident in their abilities. Their offence was clicking and, with some defensive tweaking, the club could really make noise.

It was only one game, though. As they entered the final weekend of September, they knew they were in for a larger test and those inevitable speedbumps.

Blue Crease Battle

Falling behind 4-0 in any game is never easy. Being able to claw back and take the 9-6 win showed determination from a Spitfires’ club that couldn’t really find that gear last season. It’s a characteristic that takes time to learn.

No team is going to score nine goals, nor allow six, in every game. When the 2-0 Erie Otters came into Windsor on Thursday, the Spitfires had to be prepared for any type of game thrown at them. As it turns out, fans got to see an impressive defensive battle.

Daniel Murphy and Kari Piiroinen got the start for the Otters and Spitfires, respectively, and became the story of the night.

Kari Piiroinen Windsor Spitfires
Goaltender Kari Piiroinen has had a strong start with the Windsor Spitfires. (Dave Jewell/THW)

The two combined for 39 shots against through 40 minutes but only Otters’ forward Hayden Fowler was able to put anything on the board. He put a shot on Piiroinen that bounced off Spitfires’ forward Jean-Luc Foudy and into the net, giving his club the 1-0 lead.

Spitfires’ head coach Trevor Letowski’s new systems keep the forecheck going throughout the game and they paid off. Captain Luke Boka charged through the Otters’ defence in the third, slid it under Murphy, and we were tied at one.

With five minutes remaining, Tyler Angle found the puck at the side of the net and promptly put it home, giving the Spitfires the 2-1 lead. Despite the Otters’ pulling Murphy with a minute to go, neither club would add another and 2-1 was the final. (from ‘Murphy overcome odds, earns chance in net with Otters,’ Erie Times-News, 12/15/2017)

It wasn’t the high-scoring affair fans saw a few days prior, but the comeback shows the Spitfires can get the job done when needed. It was another necessary confidence boost before hitting the road.

Splitting on the Road

The first road trip of the season is both helpful and intimidating. You build team chemistry and bonding but winning in enemy territory is always a big challenge.

Friday night, the Spitfires walked into the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton for a game against the Bulldogs, who had lost their home opener to the Otters a few days prior.

Hamilton Bulldogs
The Hamilton Bulldogs. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Just like Thursday night, these 60-minutes came down to the goaltenders. Xavier Medina and Marco Constantini got the starts for the Spitfires and Bulldogs, respectively. It was special as the 17-year-olds were each making their OHL debuts. Neither looked like rookies, though.

This time, the Spitfires got on the board first as Cole Purboo scored his first of the season late in the opening frame. That’s all they could muster through two periods, though, as the teams combined for 34 shots.

Pasquale Zito (Spitfires) and Payton Vescio (Bulldogs) each added their first OHL goals in the third period as the Spitfires grabbed the 2-1 win. Medina made 18 saves to earn his first OHL win.

Following the game, the Spitfires headed across the border to Pennsylvania for the rematch with the Otters on Saturday night.

The Erie Insurance Arena has always been a challenge for the Spitfires and this night was no different. NHL draft prospect Jamie Drysdale had two points in the first period as the Otters jumped out to a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes.

Erie Otters Jamie Drysdale
Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

This wasn’t new territory for Letowski’s crew, though. Was another comeback in store?

Spitfires’ veteran defenceman Connor Corcoran made it a 3-2 game late in the second period but the two-goal lead was restored by Kurtis Henry before the buzzer sounded.

The Otters put two power-play goals up in the third, giving them a 6-3 win and shutting the door on another Spitfires’ comeback.

Rychel Returns to Rose City

The loss in Erie was a learning experience for the Spitfires. Their penalty killers allowed three goals on seven chances and missed two separate two-on-nones themselves. Scoring one would have changed the dynamics but Otters’ goaltender Aidan Campbell was rock solid.

This week, Letowski and his staff work on special teams and get the club ready for a big weekend.

It starts Thursday when the Ottawa 67’s make their lone trip this season to the WFCU Centre. The second-ranked team in Canada comes in with a 3-0 record on the road; proof that they can get it done anywhere.

While goaltender Michael DiPietro has moved on, the 67’s still feature five NHL picks, including New Jersey Devils’ 2019 third-round pick Graeme Clarke.

Graeme Clarke Ottawa 67's
Graeme Clarke of the Ottawa 67’s. (Courtesy OHL Images)

On Saturday night, it’s the return of former Spitfires’ general manager Warren Rychel and the Barrie Colts. The Colts hired Rychel as head coach after Dale Hawerchuk took a leave of absence in September for health reasons.

Rychel has the Colts off to a 3-1 record. Their only blemish was a 10-0 loss to the Owen Sound Attack. Carolina Hurricanes’ 2019 first-round pick Ryan Suzuki leads their charge.

Spitfires Warren Rychel
Former Windsor Spitfires GM Warren Rychel. (Dave Jewell/THW)

Closing out the weekend, the Spitfires hit the road on Sunday afternoon for a match against the Mississauga Steelheads, who come into the weekend with an 0-4 record. While the Steelheads have struggled at home, they will be well-rested and hungry. The Spitfires may be tired but can’t let their guards down.

After taking four-of-six points this past weekend, this is a chance for Letowski’s club to build on the momentum and learn from the mistakes during Saturday night’s game. If they can fix those, and continue to press their new systems, the points will come.

Puck drop on Thursday against the 67’s is set for 7:05 p.m.