Windsor Spitfires’ Weekly: Stuffin’ the Goal & Conference Chaos

Around the 10-game mark of every season, you start to get an idea of how a team will perform over the long haul. It’s been an up-and-down stretch for the Windsor Spitfires, but this Thanksgiving weekend saw them stuffing the net and gaining confidence. It’ll be needed with a tough weekend approaching.

On paper, the Spitfires look ready to take that next step in their development. The offence is there, the defence has been together for a couple of seasons, and the goaltending is full of potential. You still have to prove it on the ice, though, and the team is learning that.

They went into the weekend going 4-2-1-0 and, on this holiday, they were ready to gobble up any positives that they could.

Road Woes and Home Cooking

Every so often, no matter what the score of a game, one play stands out and takes over the highlight reels.

Friday night in Kitchener, Spitfires rookie goaltender Xavier Medina got the start against the Rangers. Before fans could even get comfortable in their seats, he put on a show with one of the best saves you’ll see. Take a look:

Despite the outstanding save, the Rangers still capitalized later. Riley Damiani and Liam Hawel each had two points in the first period, taking a 3-0 lead after 20.

Jean-Luc Foudy added one for the Spitfires in the second period but that was it. Jacob Ingham made 43 saves to get the Rangers the 3-1 win.

The Spitfires returned home on Saturday night to face the winless Sarnia Sting in a tough Western Division battle. It’s a classic rivalry.

The Sting’s struggles have been unexpected, giving up an average of more than six goals per game. Could that average drop, though? Ethan Langevin got the start in goal for the Sting while the Spitfires countered with Kari Piiroinen.

A late first-period goal from Dallas Stars’ prospect Curtis Douglas gave the Spitfires a 1-0 lead heading into the room. The Sting tied it up early in the second, but then gave up four-of-the-next-five goals, including Ruben Rafkin’s first in the OHL.

Windsor Spitfires Ruben Rafkin
2019 CHL Import pick Ruben Rafkin has excelled on the Windsor Spitfires’ defence this season. (Dave Jewell/THW)

The Spitfires took a 6-3 lead after 40 and didn’t look back. A pair of goals from each team in the third capped off an 8-5 final.

In total, 13 Spitfires had at least one point, including Douglas, Foudy, and Daniel D’Amico, who all had three-point nights. Scoring eight goals after just one the night before is a head-scratcher, but it shows the good and bad of the Spitfires through the first month.

Firebirds and Knights Await

At the start of the season, Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski presented new offensive systems. They would be more aggressive on the forecheck to create more chances, but still maintain their well-known defence.

It’s worked, sort of.

Spitfires Trevor Letowski
Windsor Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski. (Dave Jewell/THW)

In the first nine games, the Spitfires have scored four or more goals on three occasions (two wins). They’ve also scored two or fewer on two occasions (two wins). It’s an inconsistency that puzzles, especially when they average 32 shots a game.

Letowski has juggled lines and tinkered since opening night. However, once he finds the right groupings, it should be fairly smooth sailing.

This week, the Spitfires start the preparation for two key contests — the Flint Firebirds at home on Thursday night and a Friday night showdown in London against the Knights.

The Firebirds have been a fantastic story to start the season, grabbing a 5-2 record while bringing in veterans Anthony Popovich and Owen Lalonde. After struggling the last two seasons, they’re finally one to watch.

Meanwhile, the Knights enter the weekend with a 3-3-1 record but are expected to challenge for a second-straight conference title. Frankly, it doesn’t get much more classic than a Spitfires/Knights game.

Cole Purboo Windsor Spitfires
The Windsor Spitfires and London Knights in Jan. 2019. (Dave Jewell/THW)

With three points separating second through seventh in the conference, you take the opportunities when you can.

Early in the season, Spitfires are showing the depth and creativity they promised during training camp. Those consistency issues are glaring, though, and it’s up to Letowski and his staff to solve them.

With at least five Spitfires on the NHL radar for the 2020 NHL Draft, plus four already drafted, eyes are on them. That brings pressure. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, and it’s proving to be entertaining.

Game time on Thursday is 7:05 p.m.