Windsor Spitfires Weekly: First Road Trip & Goalies Moved

The Windsor Spitfires aren’t about to let heavy graduation slow them down. After playing three of four at home (going 3-0-1-0) to start the 2022-23 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, the club hit the road this past weekend for their first overnight trip. They found some success before saying goodbye to a couple of friends.

Defending their 2022 Western Conference Championship is a mentally tough beast if you return the same lineup. With several graduates, though, it’s an even more daunting task. However, with three-straight one-goal wins heading into this weekend, they’ve shown that perseverance that was evident last season when they won 13-straight near the end of the season. Head coach Marc Savard has the Spitfires believing in themselves, regardless of the situation. Last weekend, the club headed on the road to face the Sarnia Sting and Owen Sound Attack, two notoriously tricky arenas, and came away with even more momentum. Here are three takeaways from their first road trip of the season.

3 Road Trip Takeaways

Results from the weekend:

Friday – 6-3 win over Sting
Saturday – 6-5 overtime loss to Attack

3. Secondary Scoring Starting to Show

Last season, the Spitfires relied on veterans Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars), captain Will Cuylle (New York Rangers), Matthew Maggio (New York Islanders), and Louka Henault to really drive the offence. However, with Cuylle and Henault graduated and Johnston still with the Stars, Maggio can’t be relied upon to carry the entire load. That’s where the secondary scoring has taken over.

The club knew that players like sophomores Ryan Abraham and Oliver Peer, newcomer Colton Smith, plus veterans Alex Christopoulos and Jacob Maillet, would have to increase their production for the team to find more success. So far, they’ve found their mark.

Colton Smith Windsor Spitfires
Colton Smith (61) is starting to find his game with the Windsor Spitfires. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Coming into the weekend, the five had combined for eight goals and five assists in four games. It’s been a breath of fresh air, and that continued into the Sting and Attack games, too. The five players scored seven goals in the two games with 17 total points. Abraham and Smith led the way with five points each, including a four-point effort against the Sting for Abraham.

While Maggio has only played four games and is already leading the team with eight points, he had plenty of help this weekend. It’s a good sign and indicative that, should Johnston not return from the Stars, the Spitfires will be okay offensively.

2. Onuska Can’t Do It Alone

While Savard has them rolling offensively, the same can’t be said for the defence. It has left veteran Mathias Onuska out to dry on more than a few occasions.

This season, the team has allowed 33.58 shots per 60 minutes while Onuska is in goal, compared to 28.33 last season. While the veteran has increased his save percentage from .882 percent to .893 percent, it’s clear that he’s getting more action this season. That hasn’t helped his goals against, either; if you remove the first game (two goals allowed), he’s averaging just under four per 60 minutes (four games). He needs help.

Mathias Onuska Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ goaltender Mathias Onuska. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Defensively, the club is still developing. While Michael Renwick, 20, is their leader, he’s the only one with more than one season of experience. It’s the price you pay when three veteran defencemen (Henault, Nathan Ribau, and Andrew Perrott) move on in the off-season. So what’s the solution?

Related: Windsor Spitfires Start 2021-22 Trade Deadline with a Bang

General manager Bill Bowler should be looking at bringing in another older veteran to help ease the load. It might mean someone sits or gets shipped out, but allowing 33.58 shots per 60 minutes can’t be sustained if you want success. And with the club having allowed 71 shots in two games this past weekend, Onuska needs help in front of him. While the offence has carried them to success, there’s no guarantee it can be sustained over 68 games. The backend needs adjusting.

1. Power Play Needs to Find Its Way

What a difference roster turnover can make. Last season, the Spitfires’ power play was a well-oiled machine at 26.1 percent, good for third overall. Now, coming into last weekend, the club ran at just 13.33 percent, putting them near the bottom of the league. In the two games, they went 0-for-5 dropping them down to last place at 2-for-20 on the season (10 percent).

The question is – why the struggle? Part of that is the roster turnover. Last season, they had Cuylle, Johnston, Henault, and Perrott leading the charge, while the secondary power play line saw less action on most nights. When your top line is producing that efficiently, you keep them out there. However, it creates issues now as the secondary guys are your go-to’s, and that’s unfamiliar territory.

Marc Savard Head Coach Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Savard also uses systems that, while very effective, take a bit to get used to. We saw the same thing last season; they started the season slowly before it all clicked and they went on a run. That’s where repetition and confidence come into play. Stick to the systems, be confident about your abilities, and good things will happen. History shows that’s their reality.

The Spitfires will work on their special teams this week as they get ready for a three-game weekend — Thursday night at home to the Saginaw Spirit, Friday at the Flint Firebirds, and Sunday afternoon at home to the Niagara IceDogs.

Medina Sent to USHL

The Spitfires’ goaltending has finally been settled — 20-year-old Xavier Medina is on the move. However, it’s not to another OHL team.

On Monday afternoon, the team sent Medina’s rights to the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League (USHL). It’s the top junior league in the US midwest, with players ranging from 16-21 years old, similar to the OHL.

Medina was the Spitfires’ third-round pick in 2018 but battled various issues (consistency, injury, illness) throughout his time with the club. They were forced to acquire the (now) 20-year-old Onuska from the London Knights last season at the trade deadline, creating more off-ice issues that the club wouldn’t talk much about. And Onuska got the majority of starts the rest of the way.

Xavier Medina, Windsor Spitfires
Former Windsor Spitfires’ goaltender Xavier Medina in 2021-22. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

While both came to camp this season, the Spitfires have five overagers (20 years old) and can only dress three on any given night. With spots already taken on forward and defence, something had to give in goal. Onuska won the role, and Medina was the odd man out. He finishes his OHL career with 35 wins, a goals-against average of 3.27, and a .888 SV% in 67 games. Bowler tried finding a trading partner in the league, but most teams already have their goaltenders set.

“We were being as patient as we could, but Xavier wanted to play and the time had come,” Bowler said.

“I think Sioux Falls is a great opportunity for him to keep his goal of playing pro on track.” (from ‘Local Roundup: Unable to find OHL trade partner, Spitfires send goalie Medina to USHL’, Windsor Star – 10/17/22)

With the move, the Spitfires are set with Onuska and newly-acquired 17-year-old Joe Costanzo as their pairing for the season. They also have forwards Maggio and Joshua Currie, along with Renwick and Onuska, as their current overagers. It’s likely that Currie will be the final one moved.

Downey Traded to the Otters

Just 24 hours after sending Medina to the USHL, Bowler made another housekeeping move. On Tuesday morning, he sent 18-year-old goaltender Kyle Downey to the Erie Otters. In return, the Spitfires get a sixth-round pick in 2025.

Downey was a second-round pick (39th overall) in 2020 and considered the future in goal. However, the COVID-19 stoppage halted his development for a season, and he then struggled to find his game when called upon in 2021-22. The 6-foot-2, 179-pounder had a 4-3-1-0 record last season with a 4.19 G.A.A. and .857 SV%. He came to the Spitfires’ camp this season hoping to win the backup spot, but once the club brought in Costanzo, he went back to Jr. B.

Kyle Downey, Windsor Spitfires
Former Windsor Spitfires’ goaltender Kyle Downey in 2021-22. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Now, he’ll get a shot with the Otters, who need goaltending depth. Otters’ GM Dave Brown told the Windsor Star that their starting goaltender, Nolan Lalonde, is out for a bit and that they didn’t want to rush their rookie backup. This is a perfect chance for Downey to show what he has.

“Goalies take more patience, even under normal circumstances,” Otters’ general manager Dave Brown said.

“In this situation, COVID no doubt created a more trying time for players and their personal development. Kyle was the first goalie selected in 2020 for a reason and we look forward to working alongside Kyle so both he and the Otters can achieve our desired success.” (from ‘Downey will get fresh start with Otters after trade from Spitfires’, Windsor Star – 10/18/22)

Downey won’t have long before he sees his old club again. The two teams meet in Erie on Sat., Oct. 29.

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