The Windsor Spitfires picked a good time to find their groove. As the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Christmas break approaches, the team has made its mark on the league’s Western Conference. This past weekend, not only did they earn some much-needed points, but they helped a couple of thousand local youth along the way.
Coming into 2021-22, the Spitfires were ranked as high as eighth in the CHL Top-10. Expectations were lofty, mostly because of their potential, and maintaining that standard proved difficult. While the team had plenty of offense, a struggling defense and injuries hurt them in the standings. However, they seem to have found their stride, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With three key conference games last weekend, and a major event, it felt pretty festive at the WFCU Centre.
Coming into the weekend, the Spitfires had been searching for consistent hockey. Their offense was fine, scoring 30 goals over their last six games. However, they had also allowed 33 goals. Fortunately, a key piece to the puzzle was about to return.
After missing nine games, veteran goaltender Xavier Medina made his highly-anticipated return at home on Wednesday. The Owen Sound Attack made their second trip to the WFCU Centre and quickly found that a confident goaltender can be a real pain.
Medina stopped 14-of-15 shots in the first period, taking control of his crease, while his club took over in the final 40 minutes. The Spitfires scored a pair in each of the second and third periods for a convincing 4-1 win. Rock-solid defense and timely offense weren’t something fans were used to, but it was welcomed with open arms.
Friday night, the Spitfires took that momentum into hostile territory as they faced the Knights in London, who had won all three meetings this season. However, there was an X-factor in this one. The visitors were missing captain Will Cuylle to Team Canada for the 2022 World Juniors’ Selection Camp while the home side had forward Luke Evangelista and goaltender Brett Brochu gone for the same reason. That played a key role in this.
The Knights used their backup and third-string goaltenders, who combined for six career games played. Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard took full advantage. His club peppered the home side in the opening 20, grabbing a 3-0 lead, and cruised to a 4-1 final.
This was a huge confidence boost for the Spitfires. While they didn’t beat Brochu, who’s among the best goaltenders in the league, the win goes a long way for the psyche. You take two points against the Knights whenever you can.
Flying Teddies and Two Points
The Spitfires headed home for a big Saturday night contest with a three-game winning streak to their name. Not only were they facing the Kitchener Rangers, who they had yet to beat this season, but it was Teddy Bear Toss night at the WFCU Centre. That should be motivation enough, right?
Fans poured into the arena, stuffed animals in hand, looking for a classic Saturday night tilt. They got their money’s worth. In the opening 40 minutes, the clubs went shot-for-shot, with Medina and Rangers’ goaltender Pavel Cajan putting on a show. Only the visitors would light the lamp, though, taking a 1-0 lead into the final frame.
Never count out Savard’s club, though, especially on teddy night! Just two minutes into the third, Detroit Red Wings’ prospect Pasquale Zito finally beat Cajan and sent the teddies flying!! The arena went electric as thousands of stuffed animals littered the ice. Altogether, 2,269 toys were collected for local children’s charities. You have to love that!
When the ice was cleared, the Spitfires didn’t let the party stop. Dallas Stars’ prospect Wyatt Johnston scored 30-seconds after Zito to give the club a 2-1 lead. That would be tested, though. Zito took a five-minute major for boarding with just under five minutes remaining, giving the Rangers a golden opportunity to tie it. However, blocked shots, stingy defense, and a little bit of hope went a long way until the final buzzer sounded.
The 2-1 win gave the Spitfires a weekend sweep and a huge six points. They now sit just one point back of the Soo Greyhounds for first in the Western Division.
Captain Cuylle Makes Team Canada
The Spitfires went into last weekend without Cuylle as he left early in the week for the Team Canada National Junior Team Selection Camp in Calgary, AB. While the team grabbed six points, they weren’t sure when they would get their captain back. This week, they got their answer.
On Sunday evening, Team Canada officially unveiled their 25-player roster for the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships, and Cuylle’s name was among the 14 forwards. He becomes the first Spitfire to make the tournament since goaltender Kari Piiroinen was on Team Finland during the 2020 tournament.
Cuylle, 19, was not among the 51 participants invited to Canada’s development camp this past summer. However, with 18 goals and 25 points in 22 games this season, along with a strong physical presence and proven leadership, he’s eager to make a difference for the maple leaf. In addition, the Belle River-native Brochu also made the team.
This year’s tournament takes place in Edmonton and Red Deer, AB, from Dec. 26 through the Gold Medal game on Jan. 5. You can follow along with our coverage.
Final Stretch Before Santa
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Spitfires now head into their final weekend before the Christmas break. It’ll be far from easy, though, taking on two clubs that have given them fits.
On Thursday night, the Greyhounds come to the WFCU Centre, and it’s a battle for first in the division. The visitors lead the conference with 106 goals in 24 games and just acquired veteran goaltender Tucker Tynan from the Niagara IceDogs. He gives them a considerable boost in the crease.
The Spitfires will also honor long-time head coach Wayne Maxner before the game. He coached the club in 1973-74 as part of the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League, then again from 1975-80, 1983-84, and 1991-93. In 1992, the Halifax-native was inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.
Friday night, the Spitfires head to mid-Michigan for another contest with the Saginaw Spirit. The clubs played a home-and-home series just two weeks ago, with the Spirit winning each 6-5.
Savard and his club have plenty of confidence coming into the weekend. The power play has shot up to seventh in the league at 23.9% (previously near the bottom), while the penalty kill is over 73% (previously 69%). The additions of forwards Alex Christopoulos and Jacob Maillet, plus the return of Medina, give the coaches plenty of options, and all four lines/three pairs are doing their job. Fans have waited a long time for this club to gel, and it looks like it may be finally happening.
Puck drop on Thursday is set for 7:30 PM.
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.