When you’re in the middle of a playoff race, every win and every loss become magnified. The Windsor Spitfires found that out the hard way last weekend, creating an even bigger logjam at the bottom of the OHL’s Western Conference.
It all seemed fairly simple. With two winnable home games, plus a rough but not impossible road game in-between, there were important points the Spitfires could pick up. Instead, they found themselves asking more questions and gave the two other logjam teams some much-needed confidence.
For Pete’s Sake
The Spitfires and Peterborough Petes only get to battle twice during the regular season. In October, the Petes took a 4-2 win at home. Fast-forward nearly five months and both teams came into the weekend in the middle of a race for their conference’s final playoff spot.
Veteran goaltenders Colton Incze and Hunter Jones took the nets for the Spitfires and Petes, respectively. While Jones was busier in the opening 20 minutes, the teams exchanged goals for a 1-1 tie.
That’s as close as the Spitfires could get, though. Despite being outshot 30-19 overall, Petes forward Chad Denault scored a pair and teammates added two more to grab the 5-1 win. Jones stood on his head and left the Spitfires with far more questions than answers. However, there was little time to dwell as the road was calling and a Friday night contest with the Guelph Storm. In early January, the Spitfires beat the Storm 5-2 in Guelph. However, the Storm loaded up at the trade deadline and all bets were off.
Spitfires Can’t Weather the Storm
Rookie Kari Piiroinen got the start for the Spitfires while the Storm countered with backup Nico Daws. Would history repeat itself?
The Storm refused to allow that as they put together an attack that showed no mercy. They peppered Piiroinen from the opening puck drop until Incze took over with 10 minutes remaining. With three goals in the first period, four in the second and another four in the final frame, the final buzzer couldn’t come soon enough for the Spitfires.
When the dust settled, five different Storm players, including veteran Mackenzie Entwistle, had at least three points in an 11-4 rout. The strange thing was neither team scored on the power play.
The last time the Spitfires allowed at least 10 goals was a 10-9 loss against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on March 17, 2012. What about the last time they allowed 11? That was Oct. 14, 2005 in an 11-2 loss to the Plymouth Whalers.
Perhaps a home game against the last-place Kingston Frontenacs would be just the medicine the Spitfires needed. The Frontenacs had lost three straight and it was their third game in less than three days. What more could the Spitfires ask for?
Great Cause, Bad Ending
Sunday afternoon was First Responders Day at the WFCU Centre as the Spitfires honoured local first responders with special jerseys and a pre-game ceremony.
Very cool looking salute to our region’s #Police #Fire #EMS and #BorderService agencies. Thank you to all the brave First Responders that keep our communities safe, happy and well. pic.twitter.com/hXuOiZzUBd
— Windsor Spitfires (@SpitsHockey) March 3, 2019
When the game started, Spitfires veteran Connor Corcoran immediately put Friday behind him by opening the scoring just two minutes in. While the lead was nice, the Frontenacs weren’t backing down. The teams combined for just 29 shots after two periods, but the Spitfires still found themselves playing catch-up.
Frontenacs forward Matt Hotchkiss scored once in the first and once in the second as they took a 3-1 lead into the dressing room after 40 minutes. The Spitfires rebounded in the third, tying it up thanks to goals from captain Luke Boka and 6-foot-9 Dallas Stars prospect Curtis Douglas. It set the stage for a dramatic ending.
Both teams desperately needed the extra point in overtime. Only one team got their chance, though. A Tyler Angle penalty 38 seconds into the extra frame led to a Billy Constantinou goal 20 seconds later as the Frontenacs took the 4-3 win. After the 11-4 loss, anything less than two points on Sunday had to be considered a failure. Where do the Spitfires go from here?
Hitting the Open Road
The Spitfires now sit in eighth place in the Western Conference, two points up on the Erie Otters and three points back of the Sarnia Sting. The Otters have two games in-hand on both clubs.
On Thursday night, the Owen Sound Attack come to the WFCU Centre in a near must-win game for the Spitfires. The last time they faced off, the Spitfires took a 2-1 win on Feb. 18 at home during the Mickey Renaud Game.
Following that, the Spits hit the road for games against the Flint Firebirds on Saturday night and the Greyhounds on Sunday afternoon. The Firebirds are in a battle with the Frontenacs for the first-overall pick while the Greyhounds are battling the Saginaw Spirit for the West Division title.
For the Spitfires, no point can be given away. After a disappointing weekend, it’s up to head coach Trevor Letowski and his leadership group to right the plane. There are points to be had and history has shown these are teams the Spitfires can compete against.
They cannot control what the Otters or Sting do so the focus needs to be worrying about their own game and their own points. The regular season ends on March 15 and two of the Otters, Spitfires and Sting will be in the postseason. If the Spitfires want to be one of them, everyone needs to be on the same page. It starts on Thursday night.
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.