Through the first quarter of the 2022-23 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, the Windsor Spitfires have been able to find consistent success. However, there have been stumbling blocks along the way and this past weekend may have been the biggest one so far. While they came away with two points, they also found there’s plenty to learn.
The Spitfires have used last season’s run to the OHL Championship as a foundation for the present. Head coach Marc Savard and his staff have put together a solid program, while the locker room is a tight-knit mixture of veterans and rookies who play for each other. It resulted in a 10-2-3-0 record, being ranked seventh in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Top-10, and knowing that they have a shot to win every night. However, despite the success, they still deal with speed bumps that need attention and this weekend was no different. After one tough win at home, they experienced one of their worst losses since COVID-19 hit, and now they have to find a way to put that behind them. Here are three takeaways from a difficult weekend.
3 Takeaways from the Petes and Knights
Thurs., Nov. 10 – 3-2 win over Peterborough Petes (home)
Sat., Nov. 12 – 6-1 loss to London Knights (home)
3. Low-Scoring Wins Are Important for Success
The Spitfires know that they can score with the best of them. Savard came in last season and implemented creative offensive systems and it’s done wonders for the team. In 19 games this season, they have 76 goals, good for fourth in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) at 4.65 per game.
However, while some nights have five or six goals, you’re going to see low-scoring contests that require patience and persistence. After the 3-2 win over the Petes, Savard said the visitors played a trap style but the Spitfires know they can play that style if needed.
“We’ve proven we can play any way,” Savard said. “(The room) can play physical, offensive, defensive, and tonight was an example of we kept pushing. Peterborough kind of went back into a trap game and we just kept coming. Hats off to the guys in the room, they never gave up. It’s special that you can play in any kind of game.”
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The Petes are in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, but the Spitfires are in the West, which has had some outstanding goaltenders over the last two seasons. After Thursday’s game, veteran Matthew Maggio said that constantly facing elite goaltending helps them with defensive games.
“A big joke last season was that we’re kind of used to it,” Maggio said.
“When you’re in a conference that has (Saginaw Spirit’s Tristan) Lennox, (Sarnia Sting’s Ben) Gaudreau, (London Knights’ Brett) Brochu, and (Flint Firebirds’s Luke) Cavallin last season, the team understands how to get past those guys… You tell the younger guys that you’re not going to have five goals every night; some nights it’ll be tough. You just have to do the little things…”
Doing the little things isn’t always pretty but the club is better for it over the long run.
2. Blowout Losses Can Be Beneficial
While the Spitfires enjoyed a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Petes on Thursday, it was the complete opposite on Saturday. With their 401 rivals, the London Knights, coming to town, everyone expected a chippy, high-scoring affair. Instead, fans saw one of the worst performances of the season.
The Knights opened the scoring early, figured out how to beat goaltender Mathias Onuska often, and didn’t look back. The Spitfires simply had no answers; they managed one goal on starter Zachary Bowen, but just about everything went the visitor’s way in a 6-1 loss. From the veterans to the rookies, it was a poor game all around.
These things happen to even the best teams. The 2009-10 Spitfires lost 7-2 (road against Saginaw Spirit) and 5-2 (playoff road game against Kitchener Rangers) and still won the Memorial Cup. Nobody expects to be blown out, but that’s where you build character. The club has a solid, family-style culture in the dressing room and it’s nothing they can’t get past. Veteran Michael Renwick said they know it was poor but, in a 68-game season, you can’t dwell on it.
“One loss doesn’t define us,” he told the Windsor Star‘s Jim Parker after the game.
“It’s one loss. We’re going to have a bounceback week and continue to win games.”
No team is going to have a perfect season. Blowouts are going to happen. You’re going to be embarrassed at times. However, this is where the leaders step in and teach the team how to reset. Now that they know the feeling, they’re a better club for it. The loss pushed them down a spot to eighth in the CHL Top-10 rankings this week but that’s just motivation to get back into their groove.
1. It’s Time to Try Constanzo
Last season, Onuska was one of the keys to the Spitfires’ playoff run. He came over from the Knights in a deadline deal, unseated veteran Xavier Medina as the top guy, and looked primed for a big season as an overager (20-year-old). However, things haven’t gone according to plan.
Onuska was injured before training camp and didn’t see action until the preseason. Even then, he didn’t quite regain last season’s form. When general manager Bill Bowler acquired rookie Joey Costanzo from the Niagara IceDogs in late September, he was expected to learn from the veteran and take over in 2023-24. However, that plan may be accelerated.
While Onuska has had good games, his overall body of work hasn’t been the same. His goals-against average is up to 4.05 (from 3.34), his save percentage is down from .882 to .872, and he’s been inconsistent overall. The club lost three key veterans — Andrew Perrott, Louka Henault, and Nathan Ribau — in the offseason, which has had an effect. However, Costanzo has a .908 SV% and 2.95 GAA through six games. This says that something is off with the veteran.
Last week, Savard said that the players trust Costanzo and his elevated work ethic. He’s one of the first ones at the rink and does what’s needed, regardless of whether he’s starting or not. While he’s only 17 and nobody expects the team to give up on Onuska, it might be time to see what the youngster can do with increased ice time. If he’s ready for the spotlight, it can only benefit the club in the long haul.
The Spitfires have a pair of road games this weekend — Friday night against the Sting and Sunday night against the Rangers. They return home next Wednesday against the Owen Sound Attack.
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.