At the start of the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, the Windsor Spitfires were loaded with potential but lacked real experience. With just a few weeks left in the regular season, though, they’ve battled and given themselves a chance at glory. After a big weekend to start April, they now control their own fate as they march towards a conference title.
You can’t blame anyone around the Spitfires’ organization for being a bit wide-eyed and surprised. While they came into the season ranked in the CHL’s Top-10, there was enough roster turnover, plus a new coach, to create plenty of uncertainty. The season started slow but the players have bought into everything and, after some major trade deadline additions, they’re hitting their stride at the perfect time. Last weekend, they packed their suitcases for a normally difficult road trip in hopes of giving themselves the best shot at some OHL prestige.
Let’s unpack it all…
Spitfires Sweep Sting, Rangers, and Attack
Coming into last weekend, the Spitfires knew that they controlled their own destiny sitting three points up on both the London Knights and Flint Firebirds for the top spot in the Western Conference. However, with a busy weekend approaching, they couldn’t take anything for granted.
All three games had a similar storyline – the Spitfires’ offence has become a well-oiled machine that will take a serious defence in order to stop.
Thursday night, the Sarnia Sting came into town looking to fend off the Erie Otters for the final playoff spot. While the visitors have had some success against the Spitfires, this wasn’t one of those nights. Matthew Maggio scored early in the game and the home side added four more en route to a 5-1 domination. The veteran added another while Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) had three points to add to his OHL-leading totals.
The club hopped on the bus for a Friday night tilt with the Kitchener Rangers and Saturday night with the Owen Sound Attack. In both contests, the Spitfires jumped out to a 2-0 lead but found themselves tied at two shortly after.
On Friday, the Rangers stuck with them until the third period when Spitfires’ captain Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) scored his 40th and Pasquale Zito (Detroit Red Wings) added his 22nd for a 5-3 win. Saturday, the visitors scored a trio late in the second period to stun the Attack. The clubs split a pair in the third but the Spitfires came away with a 6-3 win.
With the win, the Spitfires extend their winning streak to 10 games, their longest since a 12-game streak from Nov. 5 to Dec. 5, 2009. Head coach Marc Savard has this team rolling at the perfect time.
The Battle for First in the Western Conference
While the sweep was nice and confidence is high, the club knows that the Knights and Firebirds aren’t going to go away easily.
The Spitfires now sit at 88 points through 63 games (five games remaining), good for first in the Western Conference and West Division. The Knights, leaders of the Midwest Division, sit in second at 80 points while Brennan Othmann’s Firebirds (West Division) are third with 81 points, both with five games left.
While the Spitfires know that the Firebirds and Knights are breathing down their necks, they also know that worrying about that does nothing in the end. Defenceman Michael Renwick said on Thursday that they control their own fate.
“I think we just have to do our job,” he said. “We have to win games. We can only control what we can. You look at (the standings) and, it’s nice to see you’re in first, but we know we have to win every game. That’s the goal, to win out. If we do our job, good things will happen.”
With 10-straight wins, this is a confident group that has set themselves up for a very entertaining final two weekends of the regular season. However, there’s very little room for error and nobody is going to rest easy until the conference is clinched.
Another Weekend on the Bus
On Wednesday afternoon, the CHL came out with their latest rankings and the Spitfires moved up to sixth. It’s a nice spot, but let’s not get too comfortable as they get ready for another busy weekend in hopes of making history.
On Thursday night, they welcome the Guelph Storm to the WFCU Centre for their final home game of the regular season. It’s the front half of a home-and-home. In their last meeting on Feb. 27 in Guelph, the Spitfires were dominated from the opening puck drop resulting in a 7-1 setback. This is a golden chance that Savard can’t let slip away.
After the game, the Spitfires hit the road again, first to finish off the home-and-home on Friday, and then to Saginaw on Saturday to face the Spirit. The home side will be hungry to play spoiler and have beaten the Knights, Firebirds, and Soo Greyhounds recently.
While the competition level is impressive, the mental factor makes this weekend even more difficult. None of the players have been in this spot before and the veterans still need to help the younger players along. Defenceman Nathan Ribau, 19, said his advice to those younger players is to stick to their game.
“Everyone know your role and do it well,” he said.
“…Just stick to your game, what you know, and how you play … I think we’re ready for it and our young guys are pretty mature in how they approach games and prepare. I’m really impressed with that.”
This is the team’s first chance at a conference title since their Memorial Cup run in 2010. With just five games left (four on the road), this won’t be easy. It will be a fun ride for the fans, though.
Game time on Thursday is 7:30 PM.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.