Coming into 2021-22, the Windsor Spitfires knew that establishing their post-pandemic identity would be crucial to finding long-term success. As November ends, they’re becoming a team that won’t quit but also one that needs some help. This past weekend showed that character helps build confidence but you need more to get wins.
Everyone around the Spitfires’ organization understood that this season would come with an adjustment period. With 19 months off during COVID-19, they lost almost half of their roster and half of their bench. When the season started in October, they could use the adjustment period as a valid reason for poor execution. However, with the calendar turning to December, the character and systems have been established, and now it’s a matter of finding the holes in the roster. Last weekend, they showed their identity but it wasn’t enough to make any move in the standings.
Let’s unpack it all…
Entering the final weekend of November, the Spitfires were riding high after stunning back-to-back wins against their division rivals, the Flint Firebirds. However, their next challenge was a mountain — the 401 rivals, the London Knights, who had lost just four regulation games in 18 total all season.
While the Knights have dominated the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and the Spitfires had a handful of regulars out of the lineup, nobody backed down. The clubs went toe-to-toe through the first 30 minutes of the game, with the home side grabbing a 2-1 lead thanks to New York Rangers’ prospect Will Cuylle and Dallas Stars’ prospect Wyatt Johnston. However, a slip-up on a power play gave Knights’ sniper Luke Evangelista a breakaway… and a huge goal. You could feel the energy zapped from the arena. The visitors took the momentum and scored three more in the third for a convincing 5-2 win.
It was a frustrating loss for the Spitfires, but one they had to forget about as they got ready for a home-and-home weekend with the Saginaw Spirit, starting Friday night in Windsor.
It’s impressive how similar these games wound up. Each time, the Spitfires grabbed a 2-1 lead thanks to a rookie — Ethan Martin on Friday and Christopher O’Flaherty on Saturday — but then surrendered several goals in the second period. On Friday, they were down 6-2 before clawing back for a 6-5 loss. A day later, it was a 5-2 deficit before losing 6-5 in overtime.
The single point puts them in a tie for eighth, just two points out of fourth in the conference. Being able to come back from a large deficit is a good trait, but it shouldn’t be needed regularly. It’s something the club needs to solve before the Christmas break.
Otters and Sting Come Calling
After three frustrating contests, the Spitfires attempt to shake off the negative with a pair of games this week. Thursday night, they welcome the Erie Otters back to town. The teams have split their season series so far (1-1), but the Otters have all the momentum. In their last meeting, just two weeks ago, they scored two power-play goals in the third period en route to a 7-4 stunner at the WFCU Centre. While the visitors are last in the Western Conference, the Spitfires can’t afford to take them lightly.
This is also First Responders Night, in honour of former Spitfires’ video coach Sean Demuynck. He was a video coach with the team from 2013-17 before pursuing a career as a firefighter. Tragically, he passed away in early July while on a call in Wynnewood, PA as a volunteer firefighter. It was his last call before he planned to move back to Ontario.
On Friday, the club heads to the shores of the Bluewater area for a game with the Sarnia Sting. The Spitfires have a pair of wins there, including a dominant 7-3 contest two weeks ago. The clubs are neck-and-neck in the standings; these points will matter come April.
Savard Finds Offence, Lacks Defence
If the Spitfires want to take three or four points this weekend, it starts on the bench. Head coach Marc Savard has been able to get his offence on track as they sit fourth in the conference with 78 goals in 19 games. His defence is another story altogether with 79 goals allowed, including 22 in their last four games.
What’s the reason? A combination of goaltending, sketchy defence, and frustrating special teams. Veteran starter Xavier Medina remains out with a lower-body injury, leaving rookies Kyle Downey (second-round 2020 Draft) and Matt Tovell (2019 Under-18 Draft) in charge. While Downey has huge potential and Tovell has done an admirable job, neither is ready for the spotlight.
Savard has done well with the power play, converting at a respectable 23.5 percent, but they’ve allowed a league-worst five shorthanded goals. They’re also last in the OHL on the penalty kill with just 70.6 percent. When you allow this many goals on special teams, you’re asking for a deficit.
If the Spitfires want to start banking points, tightening up their play in their own zone is crucial. The offence is scoring at an impressive clip, but that effort is wasted if they are allowing five or six goals a game.
Bowler Adds Depth from Battalion
While the team figures out their issues, they’re still dealing with several regulars out of the lineups. Last week, they called up Martin and forward Jackson McLlwain from Jr. B. However, more experience was needed up front. On Monday afternoon, general manager Bill Bowler made a move, bringing in 18-year-old winger Alex Christopoulos from the North Bay Battalion. In return, the Spitfires sent a fifth-round pick in 2025 the other way.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Christopoulos had two points in 21 games this season for the Battalion, but had 12 goals in 57 games in his rookie season (2019-20). He was looking for a bigger role this season and this is his opportunity. Bowler said he brings a strong work ethic and plenty of energy.
“Alex is a hard-working player that plays with pace and will bring a lot of energy to our team,” Bowler said in a statement.
Christopoulos added that he’s looking forward to a fresh start and a new opportunity to show what he can do.
“It feels great, I will have a great opportunity with the Spitfires and I am excited to be with this group,” he said. “I look forward to the change of scenery and to play with a new group of guys and get things going.”
What makes this deal unique is Christopoulos’ twin brother, Paul, is a defenceman for the Battalion. Will there be a sibling rivalry? Maybe in 2022-23. The teams don’t play each other this season due to OHL COVID-19 scheduling. Teams only play within their conference — the Spitfires are in the West while the Battalion are in the East.
With the move, the Spitfires sent McLlwain back to Junior B. Look for Christopoulos to be in the lineup on Thursday night. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
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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.