The vision is in place and the Windsor Spitfires are going full-speed ahead with it. The OHL trade deadline passed last Thursday and, while there are bumps along the road, there’s no turning back from the rebuild now.
After a flurry of deals designed to give his young roster plenty of playing time, Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel can now watch his creation develop. It hasn’t been an easy road but a mandatory one. When you win a Memorial Cup, you go all-in. Now Rychel and his team start the process again.
The new-look Spitfires were put to the test right after the deadline with a divisional game at home followed by a daunting road trip. What better way to get your young team to gel than a weekend away from home?
Mighty Michigan Matchups
The Spitfires hit the home ice just hours after the deadline, this time with the Flint Firebirds. While the Firebirds came in with just seven wins, they had beat the Spitfires twice.
History almost repeated itself, too, as the Spitfires lost a three-goal lead in the second period. However, a third-period goal from rookie Will Cuylle gave the Spitfires the 4-3 win. Rookie teammate Jean-Luc Foudy got in on the action himself with a two-point night. Goaltender Kari Piiroinen earned the win while Emanuel Vella took the loss for the Firebirds.
Right after the game, the Spitfires hit I-75 in Michigan and headed north for games against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Saginaw Spirit. Friday night’s tilt against the Greyhounds was a huge test. The Hounds lead the Western Division and are primed for a long playoff run.
On this night, the teams battled, each scoring a pair of goals before the 25-minute mark. A power-play goal from Barrett Hayton midway through the second period gave the Hounds the 3-2 lead and momentum. The teams split a pair late and the Greyhounds skated away with a 4-3 win. Colton Incze took the loss while Matthew Villalta got the win for the Greyhounds.
The Spitfires wrapped up the trip on Saturday night in Saginaw against the Spirit, another team trying to make a big run. Loading up on firepower at the deadline, the Spirit showed they’re ready, grabbing a 4-0 lead just 26 minutes in. Tyler Angle scored a pair for the Spitfires, but that’s as close as they’d come. New Spirit forward Owen Tippett quickly restored the three-goal lead. The teams traded goals late and the Spirit went on to a 6-3 win.
No Rest for the Young
This is a week that Spitfires head coach Trevor Letowski needed. With many changes in the lineup before the deadline, players need time to adjust. It’s a week of practice and settling in.
Thursday night will see some home cooking, though, as former Spitfires forward Mathew MacDougall and the Erie Otters come into town. The Otters sit ninth in the conference but just three points back of the Spitfires with a game in-hand.
Friday night, the Spitfires hit the road again, this time to face the Kitchener Rangers. The Rangers sit in the eighth seed between the Otters and Spitfires. Last season, the Spitfires earned the sixth seed by a single point. When that happens, these types of games become much more important. Finally, the Spitfires wrap up the weekend on Sunday afternoon with a 5:30 p.m. tilt against the Spirit in Saginaw.
Letowski and Rychel are going to do everything possible to earn points this weekend as the next two weekends see very tough competition in the London Knights, Niagara Ice Dogs and a long northern road swing.
From what we’ve seen in 2019, though, this team isn’t one to roll over. They’re relentless and rest isn’t in their vocabulary. It’s not going to be an easy stretch for this roster, but you can be sure there will be no quit. Fans want competitive, winning hockey. The latter will come in due time, but the former is here now and it’s worth watching.
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.