Windsor Spitfires’ Weekly: March Break on the Road

Good teams find a way to win no matter where you are. After a lengthy homestand that saw plenty of success, the Windsor Spitfires know that the schedule was going to get tough and points aren’t going to come easy. It’s part of the process, though, as they said goodbye to the WFCU Centre, packed their bus, and got ready for life on the road.

Life at home has been good for the Spitfires. Out of their first 50 games, the club has played 29 at home, going 20-7-1-1. They’re confident, comfortable, and bank the points on a regular basis. On the road, though, it’s a different story, going just 10-7-2-2. Coming into this past weekend, they were in the hunt for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Western Conference (and West Division) title but knew that the schedule had to even out. If they were going to maintain their playoff position, learning how to win consistently on the road was necessary. The weekend started at home against an always finicky conference rival and ended on the bus, where life will continue for the foreseeable future.

Let’s unpack it all…

Spitfires Find a Way Against Attack

From the start of the season, the Spitfires had developed a reputation for high-scoring games. They were among the leaders in goals scored, not only in the conference but the entire league. However, not every game was going to be an offensive thrill ride and they knew that.

The Owen Sound Attack came into the WFCU Centre on Thursday as the winners of six straight, creeping ever closer to the Guelph Storm for fifth in the conference. While the Spitfires had won both contests against them at home this season, nothing was going to come easy.

From the opening puck drop, this was a classic “give no inch” game. While the Spitfires put 32 shots on Tecumseh-native Nick Chenard, he was a rock in the crease. The same was said for Mathias Onuska, who had to go save-for-save with him. Through 60 minutes, the teams saw only two goals ⁠— one from Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) and one from Nicholas Porco. It wasn’t overly exciting hockey but overtime seemed fitting.

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

In the extra frame, Cuylle crashed the crease on a power play, got the rebound off Wyatt Johnston’s (Dallas Stars) shot, and buried his 30th of the season to give the Spitfires a huge 2-1 win. The Spitfires are among the highest-scoring teams in the league, but being able to win the defensive contests will prove important come playoff time. They limited the Attack, winners of six straight coming in, to just 19 shots. Head coach Marc Savard said that’s a group effort.

“That’s a credit to our guys,” he said after the game. “They really played the system tonight. We made a couple of changes in the defensive zone. These guys like to use the high ice and we didn’t give them much.”

Earning Split Versus Otters

After the game, the Spitfires loaded the bus and headed to Erie, PA, for a pair against the Otters on Friday and Saturday. It was the first time the teams have played back-to-back nights in Erie since March 10 and 11, 2000. While the Otters were fighting for the last playoff spot, they’ve given the Spitfires all they could handle this season, going 1-1-1-0. This weekend was no different.

Friday night was a game of relentless pond hockey as the teams exchanged goals throughout the 60 minutes. The Otters grabbed four different leads, getting to backup goaltender Matt Tovell and frustrating the Spitfires. While Savard’s club has a “no quit” attitude, two goals from the home side with under nine minutes remaining were simply too much. The Otters took the opener 6-4. Goaltender Nolan Lalonde made 23 saves in the win.

Nolan Lalonde Erie Otters
Nolan Lalonde is leading the charge in goal for the Erie Otters during his rookie season. (Photo by Natalie Shaver/OHL Images)

The Spitfires wanted revenge on Saturday night and showed it early, outshooting the Otters 12-2 after 20 minutes. However, just like Friday night, defence and goaltending had issues. The home jumped out to a 3-1 lead early in the second, only to see the visitors roar back with three of the next four, including Matthew Maggio’s 28th of the season with under three minutes left. That forced overtime. In the extra frame, Cuylle and Johnston worked their magic off a draw, finding the net at the 2:35 mark for a 5-4 come-from-behind win.

Related: Stars Draft Wyatt Johnston 23rd Overall

With a very tight playoff race, giving up two points isn’t what Savard or the Spitfires wanted. They had a chance to make a statement in a tough rink and came up short. Give credit to the Otters, though, as they did the job they needed to.

Road Trip Continues

There’s no time to dwell on the weekend as COVID-19 postponements continue to be made up. On Tuesday night, the Spitfires will head to Sarnia for a makeup game against the Sting. They were originally scheduled to play on Sun., Jan. 2 but the Sting were placed on league COVID-19 protocols.

The Sting are tied with the Kitchener Rangers for the final playoff spot with a game in hand. They’ve also had mild success against the Spitfires so far with three wins (scoring 18 goals in those games) out of eight games. The Spitfires hop the bus right after for a rematch with the Attack on Wednesday night, this time in Owen Sound.

The road trip ends in Michigan on Saturday night as they start a home-and-home with Brennan Othmann and the division-leading Flint Firebirds. While the Spitfires are 5-0-0-1 head-to-head this season, every point from here-on-out will be vital for the playoff race. They finish off the weekend on Sunday afternoon at the WFCU Centre in Windsor.

Brennan Othmann Flint Firebirds
Brennan Othmann of the Flint Firebirds. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Unfortunately, the Spitfires will be without defenceman Andrew Perrott for at least the Sting and Attack games. He was given a Game Misconduct on Saturday after “Leaving the Bench” at the end of the second period to fight Otters’ defenceman Cameron Morton. Perrott was handed a “minimum two-game suspension” by the OHL on Sunday.

This week starts a stretch that will see the Spitfires play eight games in 12 days. It’s going to be a physical and mental challenge. However, if they want to win the division or the conference, they have to find a way to bring it every night. It won’t be easy but they don’t have a choice. Puck drop at the WFCU Centre on Sunday is set for 4:05 p.m.

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