Any time a team heads into the final stretch of the regular season, confidence and momentum are going to play a significant factor. With just over a month left in the 2021-22 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, the Windsor Spitfires are right where they want to be. They started March off with a bang, showing rivals that they’re not going anywhere, while also preparing to leave the friendly confines of the WFCU Centre.
Nothing has been smooth sailing for the Spitfires this season. From COVID-19 postponements to injuries, a new coach to new players, figuring out this team is far from an easy task. However, through the chaos, they’ve managed to find an identity, and become a team that refuses to quit regardless of the score. They won’t win every night but they’re not going to back down. The first weekend in March gave them one of the toughest tests of the season – a home-at-home with a heated rival and a Saturday night tilt with a fierce divisional foe – all while their primary goaltender was on the sidelines. This was one to look back on once the playoffs start.
Let’s break it all down…
Spitfires Split with Knights and Greyhounds
Anytime you think of the Spitfires and the London Knights or the Soo Greyhounds, it’ll be a crazy 60 minutes of hockey. Now, take two games against the Knights and one against the ‘Hounds and throw them into three days; this was a hockey fan’s dream.
The Spitfires knew that if they wanted to win the West Division, they needed to make a statement. They came into the weekend trailing the Greyhounds and Flint Firebirds by just a few points but had games in hand. Head coach Marc Savard had the team confident and starting to play their best hockey.
The story in all three games was Savard’s club refusing to quit. On Friday night in London, the Knights jumped out to a 3-0 lead and looked to have everything under control. However, a four-goal third period started by rookie Ryan Abraham catapulted the Spitfires into overtime. While the home side took the extra point with a 5-4 win, the visitors gained a valuable one as well and some needed confidence from the third-period comeback.
That confidence came to the forefront on Saturday at home against the Greyhounds. The teams have been even all season but the Spitfires took a pair of commanding (5-2, 10-4) wins in January, so they know they can score against them.
It didn’t take long for the offence to show up, as Spitfires’ defenceman Louka Henault scored just a minute into the game. They scored twice more before the period ended, chasing goaltender Tucker Tynan from the crease. While the Greyhounds cut the deficit to 4-3 in the second, the home side went to work. Abraham, Ethan Miedema, and Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) added singles for a convincing 7-3 win.
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The win pushed the Spitfires ahead of the Greyhounds in the West Division and closer to the top-seeded Flint Firebirds. However, there was still one more bullseye on the schedule…
Spitfires Slay Knights To Close Weekend
After the 5-4 disappointment on Friday night, Sunday afternoon’s rematch against the Knights was the one everyone wanted. The last time the clubs played at the WFCU Centre, it was a physical, offensive, playoff-style battle with incredible emotion. Now, add in 3,900 fans and it was must-see TV. The teams didn’t disappoint.
While the Knights grabbed an early 1-0 lead, the Spitfires quickly solved goaltender Brett Brochu and managed three on him before the end of the first period. However, just like Friday, the lead wasn’t safe as the visitors scored a pair by the middle of the third period to tie it 3-3. Of course, it wasn’t going to be easy for either side!
Momentum is a funny thing, though. Just seconds after the Knights tied it, Pasquale Zito (Detroit Red Wings) buried his 20th to regain the lead for good. The Spitfires later added a pair to take the hard-earned 6-4 win.
Savard is new to the rivalry but has enjoyed the eight games so far.
“That was intense, a lot of fun,” he said after the game.
“It just shows you the team we’ve got. We battled; there were ups and downs all games and we managed to stay away from the suspensions … I’m proud of those guys. What a weekend. Five out of six points against two good hockey clubs.”
For the neutral fan, this game had everything you’d want to see. There’s no love between the teams and they made that crystal clear from the opening puck drop. Every stoppage had something; face washes, trash talk, and little pokes. However, the Spitfires got exactly what they needed – two points and the mental edge.
Medina Still Sidelined
While the Spitfires earned five points on the weekend, it was hard to ignore the continued absence of veteran goaltender Xavier Medina.
His last game was a 7-1 loss against the Guelph Storm on Feb. 25 and backup Mathias Onuska, who they got from the Knights at the trade deadline, has played ever since. Medina, 20, suffered a lower-body injury in November, which has kept him out of the lineup for nearly a month. He also had a battle with COVID-19 after Christmas. However, this feels different and fans are taking notice.
The club has listed Medina as “sick” but, when asked on Sunday how long the veteran will be out for, Savard pointed to general manager Bill Bowler.
“Right now, we’re just waiting and Billy is dealing with that stuff,” he said.
“There’s some stuff going on and you’ll hear more from that side.”
For now, the Spitfires have Onuska and rookie Kyle Downey in goal (called up from LaSalle Jr. B) and they haven’t missed a beat. It’s a golden opportunity for the former Knights’ backup and he’s running with it. We’ll see if Medina comes back before the season is over.
Otters and Attack Come Calling
After one of the toughest weekends of the season, the Spitfires have no time to let their guard down.
Thursday night, the Owen Sound Attack come into the WFCU Centre as winners of six-straight, separating themselves from the group that’s holding onto the final playoff spot. The Spitfires have won two-of-three meetings this season, both coming at home.
After the game, the Spitfires will hit the road for a pair of games against Connor Lockhart and the Erie Otters on Friday and Saturday. They’re a single point back of the Sarnia Sting for the last playoff spot so getting a pair of wins at home will be their goal. The clubs have met three times so far with the Otters taking two-of-three, all at the WFCU Centre.
The two-game road trip is the start of a five-game road swing that will last through St. Patrick’s Day.
Savard has a (mostly) healthy club and was able to roll all four lines on the weekend. He has the team gelling at just the right time and, with arenas at full capacity now, it creates a great atmosphere. With the Spitfires sitting in second in the division (third in the conference), with games in hand, it’s just a matter of executing every night.
The club hasn’t had home ice in the playoffs since 2010-11. Savard said they just have to keep pushing.
“We want to move up the standings,” he said.
“We want home ice; would love to get it all the way through the playoffs. I’m just proud of every guy on the team; I feel like a proud dad.”
Game time on Thursday is set for 7:30 PM.