Going on a long road trip right after the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) trade deadline was a great way for the Windsor Spitfires to bond off the ice. However, coming home for a three-game weekend after may have been even better.
Just 10 days after a busy trade deadline, the Spitfires packed their gear and hopped on the bus for a long five-game road trip that spanned two weekends. Those are never easy, but when you have several new faces on the roster, it creates a chance for everyone to gel. However, after winning just twice in the five games, the club was eager to get back to the WFCU Centre. This past weekend gave them a rare chance at three home games in four days, and they weren’t passing it up. Here are three takeaways from a busy weekend.
Three Takeaways from Three-Game Homestand
Weekend results –
Thurs., Feb. 2 – 7-4 win over Soo Greyhounds
Sat., Feb. 4 – 6-3 win over Hamilton Bulldogs
Sun., Feb. 5 – 8-1 win over Owen Sound Attack
3. Home Sweet Home
Going on the road is a part of life when you’re in sports. It’s a great chance to connect and get to know the newer players, but it’s also grueling on the body. Even the best teams in the OHL can struggle away from home.
While the Spitfires had a couple of days between their road trip games to come back home for practice, there’s nothing quite like walking through the WFCU Centre doors, knowing your next three are with friends and family. Head coach Marc Savard said the whole thing just felt right.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Our fans have been excellent all year. It just felt good; we’re a tough team to play against at home and these fans are a big part of that. I thought tonight it just felt right and, as a whole, it’s just great to be home.”
When you think of a hockey team on the road, you think of players having fun on the bus and just hanging out. However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Spitfires’ defenceman James Jodoin said they were itching to get back.
“Me, personally, I don’t do well on the bus,” he said. “I find it so uncomfortable and can’t sleep at all … Now that we have three at home, it’s unreal. We can sleep in our own beds, we’re recovering, at our own barn, our own fans… you can’t ask for more. It’s the best.”
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With a 19-3-2-1 record at home this season and just one regulation loss since Nov. 24, it’s no secret that they love playing in front of their faithful. As long as they can maintain the success at the WFCU Centre, they’ll find success in the standings.
2. Michelone and Davis’ Dynamic Spitfires Debuts
Since early January, injuries have plagued the club, and no area has been spared. Fortunately, they’ve been able to call up a few players, including two who made their Spitfires debuts this past weekend.
After being acquired from the Flint Firebirds in October, 18-year-old goaltender Ian Michelone has patiently waited for his opportunity with the LaSalle Vipers Jr. B. He was called up in early January when veteran Mathias Onuska got injured and finally got the nod on Thursday, making 34 saves in the win.
“It’s been almost a year since I started my first OHL game and it feels good to get a win with the Spitfires…,” Michelone said. “I usually get a bit nervous but today was a lot different. I felt nervous the entire day, then leading up to the game, I slowly started to calm myself down and that it was just a game…”
Cole Davis, their fourth-round pick in 2022, had 36 points in 41 games for the Vipers and signed with the Spitfires on Jan. 25. He got the call on Saturday to play on Sunday and made the most of it with his first OHL goal and assist. It was a surreal moment for the kid who regularly watches games in the stands with his Vipers teammates.
“Being in (a suite) … you can tell the atmosphere is great,” he said. “The hockey is insane but being able to play in that hockey is a whole different experience. It’s honestly mind-blowing.”
Savard said they wanted to use Davis when the opportunity came. Regardless of how long he sticks this season, the future is bright!
1. Spitfires Can Play Any Style
When Savard took over as head coach to start 2021-22, you could sense a change in the organization’s culture. They could score almost at will but also play the grinding, blue-collar style that the City of Windsor has loved for generations. This past weekend, the club was faced with three difficult teams who each brought their own style, and it proved that the Spitfires could play in any fashion.
Thursday night was more of an offensive clinic against a rebuilding Greyhounds club. The Spitfires have had plenty of success against them over the last two seasons with a 9-1 record, including a 9-4 win in the Soo in late January. However, Saturday was a different test; a rebuilding Bulldogs’ club that plays a physical, in-your-face style. It was a rematch from last season’s OHL Championship, where the Bulldogs took Game 7 on home ice. Savard said it’s also the kind of playoff-style, in-the-trenches win you want to see right now.
From the rookies to the veterans, Savard had plenty of praise to go around. Captain Matthew Maggio (New York Islanders) was a workhorse, getting bruised on every shift and still coming away with a five-point night, while the rookies see that as inspiration. Savard was also impressed by rookie Anthony Cristoforo blocking numerous shots and fellow rookie AJ Spellacy’s aggressive forechecking that caused turnovers. It’s those little things that go a long way for a team.
Sunday’s 8-1 win against the Attack was surprising, though the hard-fought battle against a team that’s not only hoping to move up the Western Conference standings but has given the Spitfires fits for several seasons now. Having an elite offence is great, but being able to win any style of game will prove invaluable in the playoffs.