Windsor Spitfires’ Weekly: Brochu, Mickey Renaud, & More Fans

In the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), you can have all the talent you want, but mental speedbumps still need to be overcome to have success. It’s an issue the Windsor Spitfires have needed to deal with this season. They can compete with anyone, but one hurdle remained, and they needed to solve it before they head into an emotional, busy upcoming weekend.

At the start of 2021-22, the Spitfires were ranked among the best in Canada, and perhaps rightfully so. Despite having not played a game in 18-months due to COVID-19, they had several NHL prospects, including captain Will Cuylle (New York Rangers), Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars), and Daniil Sobolev (Montreal Canadiens), an eager roster, and a goaltender that was ready to make his mark. However, while they’ve proven they can play with anyone, one situation has still eluded them, and this past weekend was a perfect chance to conquer that dragon.

Let’s break it all down…

Maggio Silences Spirit

Let’s be clear – the big game last weekend was Saturday night against the London Knights. We’ll explain why in a little bit, but, first, the Spitfires had a test on Thursday night that couldn’t be overlooked. The Saginaw Spirit were in town, and these teams have been through the wringer all season.

In late November, the Spirit swept a pair of 6-5 contests that included multiple multi-goal comebacks, something you rarely see now. A month later, the teams went at it again in Michigan, but this time the Spitfires came out with the 7-5 win. Following the Christmas break, two games between the clubs were postponed due to league COVID-19 protocols, so this was a game that both teams really wanted.

At first, it looked like another game of pond hockey as the teams exchanged goals within the first five minutes. Matthew Maggio opened the scoring for the Spitfires before Matyas Sapovaliv tied it for the Spirit. However, it was all Maggio after that. The veteran scored his second before the period ended while completing the hat-trick into the open net with 93-seconds left for the convincing 4-1 win.

Matthew Maggio Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ forward Matthew Maggio (81) is having a breakout season. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

It was Maggio’s second career hat-trick, with his first coming against the Flint Firebirds in November.

Spitfires’ goaltender Xavier Medina made 18 saves for the win, while Spirit goaltender Andrew Oke made an impressive 32 saves in the loss. However, while the win was big, the focus shifted to Saturday night’s main event.

Spitfires Finally Solve Brochu

In the OHL, it doesn’t get much bigger than a Saturday night between the Spitfires and Knights. Two fierce organizations that have hated each other for 30 years; what more could you ask for?

While both teams had talent, this was all about the mental game. Coming into the game, the Spitfires had scored just seven goals on 150 shots against Knights’ star goaltender Brett Brochu this season. If they wanted a shot at the OHL title come Spring, beating him now was essential.

Brett Brochu London Knights
Brett Brochu of the London Knights. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

As soon as the players hit the ice, there was tension in the air, and fans didn’t have to wait long for the fireworks.

Just six minutes into the game, Spitfires’ defenceman Michael Renwick opened the scoring to make it 1-0. However, Knights’ forward Liam Gilmartin tied it before the end of the period, then added another early in the second for a 2-1 lead.

That’s when everything changed, though.

Just two minutes later, Brochu cleared the puck over the glass, giving the home side a power play. Johnston promptly scored his 25th of the season to tie it 2-2. Maggio added another on the power play less than a minute later, thanks to a Ty McSorley roughing call. Just like that, it was 3-2 Spitfires. They didn’t let up.

Spitfires’ forward Daniel D’Amico beat Brochu with three minutes remaining, sending everyone into a frenzy and giving his club a 4-2 lead. Johnston wrapped up the scoring a minute later into an empty net for the 5-2 win.

These teams hate each other, and it showed. When they weren’t scoring, they were hitting, trash-talking, and face-washing. This was the game everyone had hoped for and, the biggest part – Spitfires finally solved Brochu!

Firebirds in Mickey Renaud Game

Beating Brochu was a huge step for the mental game, but now the Spitfires have more business to deal with. Friday night begins a three-game weekend that could have serious implications come playoff time. It’s also one of the more important dates on the club’s calendar.

Every season, the Spitfires play on Feb. 18 to honor their “Our Captain Forever,” Mickey Renaud. On Feb. 18, 2008, Renaud passed away suddenly after collapsing at home prior to a team event at the old Windsor Arena. It was later determined that he had undetected Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a heart condition in which the heart walls become abnormally thick, leading to tougher blood flow.

Mickey Renaud Windsor Spitfires 2008
Windsor Spitfires’ forward Mickey Renaud (18) in one of his final games – Feb. 9, 2008, in Peterborough, ON. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

This season, the Flint Firebirds are the opposition. They met for the occasion in 2017-18, and the Spitfires dominated a 7-0 win.

Related: Windsor Spitfires’ Best OHL Draft Pick Per Round Since 2000

This might be different, though, as the Firebirds have won nine-of-10, are six points up on the Spitfires for first in the Western Conference (though, with three more games played), and are one of only two teams to score more goals this season (Soo Greyhounds are the other). Fortunately, the Spitfires are 4-0 against them so far, outscoring 26-11.

The teams head back to Flint on Saturday night for the rematch.

The Spitfires wrap up the weekend at home on Monday afternoon (Family Day in Ontario) against the Spirit. The visitors sit in 10th in the conference, three points back of the Sarnia Sting (with five more games played), and have lost eight-of-10.

Head coach Marc Savard has to be careful, though, because taking any team lightly at this point could mean losing the division crown or even home ice. He’s done a solid job in keeping his team focused, but this weekend will be a big test. Coming off the emotional win over the Knights, the team can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal as rivals are eager to knock them down.

WFCU Centre Welcomes More Fans

Finally, the Spitfires will come into the WFCU Centre on Friday to an even bigger roar.

On Monday morning, the Province of Ontario announced that COVID-19 mandates would be lifted on Feb. 17, a few days earlier than expected. This includes capacity limits for larger venues, including hockey games. As a result, the Spitfires can have approximately 3,250 at their games, which is half capacity.

The club hasn’t seen that many fans since their final home game before Christmas in mid-December. That’s when Ontario went into a brief lockdown, including no fans at the games. The province opened venues up slowly in late January, but only 500 fans were allowed into the rink.

If all goes well, the Spitfires could see a full house in early March when all capacity limits are lifted.

Game time on Friday is set for 7:35 PM, while Monday is a 2:05 PM puck drop.

Sign up for our regular 'Prospects Newsletter' for all the latest.