You’ll have to excuse the Windsor Spitfires if they come into the post-Christmas schedule with a slight bounce in their step. After an up-and-down first half of the season, the club won six-straight games before the break to get into a tie for first in the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Western Conference. Hopefully, they’re not sluggish from the turkey, though, because the next week will test their endurance.
Coming into 2021-22, the club knew expectations were high as they were ranked eighth in the CHL Top-10. Without having played a game yet, though, did that really matter? New head coach Marc Savard put in the work with a roster that features nearly a dozen new players and, while times were tough, they’ve come out eager for more. Now, they head into the second half, ready to show that they’re not backing down. However, if they thought the first half was tough, they’re in for a treat. The schedule makers weren’t playing around, and this club will hit the ground running.
Let’s break it all down…
Spitfires’ Post-Christmas Chaos
The first half of the season, more or less, is in the rear-view mirror. It was a wild rollercoaster where the club managed to earn a share of the top spot in the division with the Soo Greyhounds. With stockings torn open and bellies full of stuffing, the Spitfires now get ready for a chaotic second half.
A normal OHL schedule has roughly 34-of-68 games before the Christmas break. However, with COVID-19, the league created a back-heavy schedule within your conference to reduce travel. As a result, the Spitfires have a 26/42 split. Fortunately, thanks to players like captain Will Cuylle (New York Rangers), leading-scorer Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars), and veteran goaltender Xavier Medina, they have all kinds of momentum.
The club starts with three games over the next four days to finish 2021 and six games in 10 days before the trade deadline (Jan. 10). Cuylle is still with Team Canada at the World Juniors, but the club can win without him. It begins Tuesday night as they hit the road to face the Rangers in Kitchener, who sit in seventh in the conference. The teams battled at the WFCU Centre in Windsor on Dec. 11, with the Spitfires taking a late 2-1 win on Teddy Bear Toss night.
On Thursday, the Spitfires are back on the road, this time against the surging Guelph Storm. They have won 8-of-10, leapfrogging the London Knights for first in the Western Conference. While the Spitfires won their first meeting 6-3, expect this to be a serious battle.
Finally, they end 2021 with a New Year’s Eve afternoon tilt against the Flint Firebirds. The Spitfires have won all three games this season, outscoring them 20-8 in the process. This one is sold out, and we’ll explain why below!
COVID-19 Postponement and Fan Regulations
Friday’s game against the Firebirds was not supposed to be the Spitfires’ last game of the weekend. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans.
On Dec. 26, the OHL announced that the Sarnia Sting would have three upcoming games postponed due to “league COVID-19 protocols.” This means the Spitfires’ game in Sarnia on Jan. 2 (Sunday afternoon) will have to be rescheduled. It’s the first postponement for Savard’s club.
When games are played, fans will notice two significant changes.
To help stop the spread of the Omicron variant, the Ontario Government announced more restrictions for venues that can hold over 1,000 people – including sports facilities and the OHL. This includes no more than 50% capacity, which would be 3,250 fans for Spitfires’ home games (this is why the New Year’s Eve game is sold out!), as well as no food or drink sales allowed. Fans were able to take masks off to eat or drink; that’s essentially stopped.
Arenas having 50% capacity isn’t a new concept; the league had that for a couple of weeks during September before Ontario allowed full capacity. The food and drink restriction is new and will be an adjustment. Fans will have to stuff themselves before heading to the rink. It’s not fun, but hopefully, it’s short-lived.
The club is riding high with just under two weeks until the trade deadline. It’s a nice spot to be in but one they can’t take for granted. The upcoming busy stretch will push them to the limit, and now isn’t the time to give up any points. Everyone stay healthy and enjoy this run for as long as you can!
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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.