Learning how to win close games in the OHL is a process. The Windsor Spitfires learned that the hard way to end last season, but they’re starting to find their way. This past weekend, they found themselves in three tight games and welcomed back their former boss in the process.
To end 2018-19, the Spitfires lost five-of-six one-goal games. When you’re a young team, it’s part of the development process. A new season has brought optimism and better results, though, as they’ve gone 2-0 in tight games.
With two contenders and a tough road game on the schedule, though, it wasn’t going to be easy to continue the success.
Barber Pole Blues
A measuring stick for any club is how they do against the best in the league.
On Thursday night, the Spitfires welcomed the CHL’s number-one ranked Ottawa 67’s to the WFCU Centre. The 67’s came in with their barber pole jerseys, a 3-1 record, and much of their roster returning after last season’s OHL Final appearance.
It wasn’t the start the Spitfires wanted as four first-period penalties had them chasing the 67’s from the get-go. Fortunately, Spitfires’ rookie goaltender Xavier Medina kept his club in the game, making 13 saves and ensuring they were only down 2-1 after 20.
The 67’s only managed eight shots in the second period but still made two count, taking a 4-2 lead into the final period.
There’s something about the Spitfires and comebacks, though. They fired 17 shots on 67’s goaltender Cedrick Andree in the final 20 minutes and, thanks to Will Cuylle and Luke Boka, forced extra time.
The 67’s are number one for a reason, though. Mitchell Hoelscher grabbed the puck off a turnover in overtime and beat Medina clean to give the 67’s a 5-4 win.
Losing any game in overtime isn’t fun but the Spitfires showed they could compete with the best in the nation. It was a confidence booster.
Spoiling Rychel’s Return
The Spitfires took the positives and got ready for a big Saturday night, welcoming back former general manager Warren Rychel and the Barrie Colts.
Rychel, who stepped down from the Spitfires in July, took over as the Colts’ interim head coach last month when Dale Hawerchuk had to take a leave of absence due to health issues. He’s done quite the job, guiding them to a 3-1 record.
Prior to the game, the Spitfires showed a video tribute from Rychel’s time in Windsor. It got a loud ovation from the crowd of over 3,500 fans.
Once that was over, it was business as usual. Just 30 seconds into the game, Tyson Foerster found space behind Spitfires’ goaltender Kari Piiroinen, giving his club an early 1-0 lead.
The Colts continued to pepper Piiroinen and outshot the Spitfires 24-12 in first-and-second periods. However, the Spitfires would respond. Tyler Angle and Daniel D’Amico added second-period power-play goals to put them up 2-1 after 40.
Extra time only seemed appropriate on this night. Riley Piercey scored the lone marker in the third period and neither club could score in overtime, so the shootout was on the menu.
D’Amico was on his game, sliding it five-hole on goaltender Arturs Silovs, giving the Spitfires the 3-2 win. This despite being outshot 38-24; Piiroinen earned the first star.
Following the win, Rychel told the Windsor Star that the game was bang for your buck.
“It was a pretty good hockey game,” he said.
“A lot of hitting, it was rough, there was a fight, tight-checking (and an) overtime shootout. I don’t know where you can get much more action for 20 bucks in the City of Windsor?” (from ‘More than a win at stake as Spitfires beat Rychel’s Colts in a shootout’, Windsor Star – 10/5/2019)
Gobble Up the Points
Following the game, the Spitfires headed up the 401 for a Sunday afternoon tilt with the Mississauga Steelheads. While the teams traded goals through two periods, James Hardie put in the final dagger in the third period to give the Steelheads a 4-3 win. The Spitfires finished the weekend with three out of a possible six points.
Head coach Trevor Letowski juggled lines last week and, offensively, it seems to have paid off. Angle had a four-point weekend, as did defenceman Ruben Rafkin. Nashville Predators’ prospect Egor Afanasyev also chipped in with his first two OHL goals.
All four lines were rolling, showcasing the team’s new depth. Add in Letowski’s new offensive systems and it’s becoming hockey that fans have craved. It only becomes a matter of tightening up the defence, which has allowed four-goals-or-more in four games so far. Consistency will be necessary as they work to become contenders.
After a week of practice, the team gets ready for some Thanksgiving hockey, starting on Friday night when they head to Kitchener for a match with the Rangers. Last season, Piiroinen notched his first OHL shutout at the Auditorium in Kitchener. However, it’s not an easy building to win in and the Rangers just got sniper Greg Meireles back from the Florida Panthers. It’s a game worth watching.
Then, on Saturday, the Spitfires are home to the Sarnia Sting, who are 0-5 to start the season. Despite their struggles, expect a very tough Western Division contest.
5 Spitfires Recognized by NHL
It’s never too early to look ahead at the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Spitfires received good news on Monday as five players were on the NHL’s preliminary “Players to Watch” list ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.
The list rates the players with an “A”, “B”, or, “C”-rating.
- A-Rating –
projected first-round pick
- B-Rating – projected second-or-third-round pick
- C-Rating – projected fourth, fifth, or six-round pick
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Foudy and 6-foot-2, 205-pound Cuylle were first-round picks in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Cuylle came to the Spitfires in a deal with the Peterborough Petesprior to last season.
McDonald and Robinson were the Spitfires’ second-and-third-round picks, respectively, in 2018. McDonald was hurt in late January and Robinson was used sparingly down the stretch, so this is a season for each to show what he’s capable of.
Rafkin is a 6-foot, 190-pound defenceman who was drafted in the 2019 CHL Import Draft out of Finland via the Tri-City Storm (USHL). He’s currently tied for the Spitfires’ scoring lead with eight points (all assists) in eight games.
Both Foudy and Cuylle were also listed on the Sportsnet 2020 NHL Draft Rankings for October. Foudy was ranked at 21 while Cuylle was right behind him at 24.
The 2020 NHL Draft is set for June 26-27 in Montreal.