It all comes down to two. After 66 games, the Windsor Spitfires’ season will be determined by six periods, plus a little help from other teams.
After a regular season that featured plenty of ups and downs, this Jekyll and Hyde team had another strange weekend with two losses and a surprising win. It wasn’t what they had planned but that’s been their story. Now, the Spitfires can only control so much as the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference nears the finish line.
Spitfires Fail to Soar
Two weeks ago, the Spitfires beat the Owen Sound Attack 2-1 during the annual Mickey Renaud Game. Another repeat performance would have been golden as they tried to extend their lead on the ninth-seed Erie Otters. It didn’t happen, though.
The Attack opened a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, sending the Spitfires into scramble mode. While veteran Cole Purboo cut the deficit to 2-1 after 20 minutes, that’s as close as the Spitfires would come. For the next 40 minutes, the teams exchanged goals, including Purboo’s second of the game, but it wasn’t enough. Despite pressure at the end, the Attack escaped with a 4-3 win. They also held a 24-19 edge in shots.
After this, the Spitfires hit the road: Saturday night they were in Flint to face the Firebirds and Sunday afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie for a matinee with the Greyhounds. Neither team has been easy for the Spitfires but they had to keep the faith.
The Firebirds entered Friday’s game in a battle with the Kingston Frontenacs for last place in the OHL. With 14-year-old scoring sensation Shane Wright being granted Exceptional Status for the 2019 OHL Draft, neither team really wants to lose out. However, that didn’t mean the Firebirds would just give the Spitfires the two points. In fact, they made life pretty miserable.
Spitfires rookie Will Cuylle opened the scoring seven minutes into the first period but that’s as far as they got. Former Spitfires forward Cody Morgan had a goal and an assist during the Firebirds’ four-goal outburst and they took the 4-1 win. Firebirds goaltender Luke Cavallin made 36 saves in the win.
The loss made Sunday afternoon’s game that much more complicated. A 2 p.m. start in the Soo, combined with a four-hour drive, bad weather and daylight saving time wasn’t a recipe the Spitfires wanted but sometimes you just have to deal with it.
Another Spitfires/Greyhounds Classic
Any time you have multiple one-goal games against a team during a season makes for must-see hockey. The Spitfires and Greyhounds played five games this season and four were decided by a goal. You know what’s coming, right? While the Greyhounds jumped out to a 15-6 shot lead after 20 minutes, it was 1-1 thanks to Spitfires goaltender Colton Incze. His effort helped the team gain some momentum and they took full advantage.
Purboo added another two in the second period to give the Spitfires the 3-2 lead after 40. Don’t count the Hounds out yet. Zack Trott scored the lone goal in the third to, once again, force extra time. It wouldn’t be a Spitfires/Greyhounds game without a little drama, would it?
The teams exchanged chances at three-on-three but it took over four minutes for someone to find the back of the net. Spitfires defenceman Nathan Staios took the puck out of his zone, went around the Greyhounds’ defenceman, then put the puck high glove on goaltender Matthew Villalta to seal the 4-3 win.
With the win, the Spitfires regained the eighth seed and now the waiting begins.
Three Teams, Two Spots, One Weekend
After six months, we’re down to the final weekend to determine the playoffs. The Otters lost to the Steelheads and Kitchener Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday night, respectively, and it sets up the final few games.
Let’s break down the schedules:
Sarnia Sting – 59 points in 65 games – 7th OHL Western Conference
- Fri., March 15 v. Spitfires
Sat., March 16 at Firebirds
Sun., March 17 v. Firebirds
Windsor Spitfires – 58 points in 66 games – 8th OHL Western Conference
- Thurs., March 14 v. Firebirds
Fri., March 15 at Sting
Erie Otters – 56 points in 66 games – 9th OHL Western Conference
- Fri., March 15 at Guelph Storm
Sat., March 16 v. Storm
If the Spitfires beat the Firebirds on Thursday night, they guarantee at least a tiebreaker for the eighth seed. What happens if two teams are tied for the eighth seed after Sunday? The OHL Tiebreaker Rules state that the eighth and ninth-seeded teams will play a one-game playoff on Tues., March 19. Home ice goes to the team with the higher combined number of regulation and overtime wins (ROW).
It’s rare but it has happened to the Spitfires before. On March 20, 1999, they hosted the Rangers at the old Windsor Arena. The teams battled into the second overtime when Spitfires veteran Blair Stayzer beat Rangers goaltender Reg Bourcier for a 2-1 win.
While this season has been up and down, playing meaningful hockey in March isn’t something the Spitfires can take lightly. Thursday night’s game against the Firebirds is bound to be a doozy.
I’m a resident of Windsor, ON and a graduate of St Clair College Journalism and New Media program as well as the University of Windsor Communication, Media, and Film program. I’ve been a junior hockey fan (specifically the Windsor Spitfires) for 30-years and have written about/photographed junior hockey since about 2005.