3 Takes from 2022-23 Northern Swing
The ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’ cliché could apply to the Windsor Spitfires this past weekend. On a five-game road trip throughout the season, they found a way to battle their way through injuries and inconsistent hockey to end strong. Now they’re ready for some home cooking.
Three weeks ago, the Spitfires underwent an overhaul at the 2023 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) close. Everyone knew it would take time to adjust. After two home games with the new squad, they immediately hit the road for five games over two weekends, including the annual Northern Road Swing. While it was a good chance for the squad to coalesce, it’s not easy for the best clubs to play away. They looked for consistency as teams tried to knock them out. However, a strong finish last weekend gives them plenty of momentum for the journey home.
3 Takeaways by Northern Road Swing
Results from the weekend:
Thu, Jan 26 – 5-3 loss at North Bay Battalion
Fri, Jan 27 – 2-3 defeat at the Sudbury Wolves
Sun 29 Jan – 9-4 win at the Soo Greyhounds
3. Leadership on the ice as important as dressing rooms
Before the deadline, the club stressed the importance of their cohesion and chemistry off the ice. They were as close-knit a club as we’ve seen in a long time, and general manager Bill Bowler didn’t want to upset that. As of deadline, he brought in two former captains, Shane Wright and Jacob Holmes, as well as three other veterans who were good in the space. From all indications so far, the transition has been seamless. However, leadership on the ice proves to be just as important as it is in space.
Losing a head-to-head against a top contender in the battalion on Thursday was no fun, but losing to Wolves on Friday hurt even more. This club is fighting for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Spitfires came out flat, showing little life in front of a crowded Sudbury Community Arena. They knew it was unacceptable. While head coach Marc Savard addressed them, captain Matthew Maggio was not happy with the result. He took charge on Sunday in the Soo with a four-point performance, earning him a league lead of 68 points in 43 games. The other veterans didn’t go easy either, as six of them, including Holmes (Dallas Stars), Alex Christopoulos and Michael Renwick, all had two-point afternoons. A total of 11 players had a point, which makes a big statement.
Ahead of the five-game journey, Maggio said they wanted first place overall in the event the OHL championship goes into Game 7. The Spitfires are now just six points behind the Ottawa 67 in first place in the league. They have all kinds of talent and leadership skills, but if they want to get first place, they have to do it every night.
2. Injuries play a role
The club began their five-game journey with goalkeeper Mathias Onuska and striker Ryan Abraham both sidelined injured. In the first weekend they lost defender Daniil Sobolev and forward Oliver Peer to injuries and troubles in the north continued.
While they got Peer back, they were without Wright (Seattle Kraken) due to a lower body injury sustained in practice. He was listed as a day-to-day all weekend but did not play. The club were forced to call up Junior B forwards Nick Graniero and Wylie Birkett. Neither recorded a point, but they saw plenty of action, especially on Sunday, and gave Savard enough body to roll four lines. When the team is at the end of a long journey, that’s a big advantage. The club also signed Cole Davis, who was selected in the fourth round in 2022 and he could make his debut shortly.
Related: OHL: 5 Spitfires Stories You Should Watch In The Second Half Of 2022-23
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Savard has gushed about their overall depth throughout the season and how each line can contribute on any given night. That depth came into play throughout the weekend as coaches tried their best to find the right line combinations. It’s never an easy task, but they found their step during Sunday’s game against the Greyhounds. We’ll see if they can get some of the injured players back in the line-up this weekend.
1. Home cooking required
Road trips are never easy, but a convincing 9-4 win over division rivals Greyhounds is satisfying, especially in the final game before heading home.
Before the road trip, the club was 11-6-1-0 away from the WFCU Center, a far cry from their 16-3-2-1 record at home, which is only second in the league behind the 67ers. The Spitfires have averaged 5,537 fans (6,250 capacity) in five games since Christmas and 5,874 in two games after the deadline. Players and coaches have said they feed on that energy, and it might be just what they need right now as they start the weekend just a point ahead of the London Knights for the top seed in the Conference.
This weekend, they start a three-game home fight — a rematch with the Greyhounds on Thursday, followed by a 2022 OHL Championship rematch with the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday night and the ever-tough Owen Sound Attack on Sunday night. The Bulldogs game will be a special night as the club celebrates superheroes wearing Thor-inspired jerseys. As of Monday afternoon, the game is 80 percent sold out.
None of these games are going to be easy and the Spitfires have struggled with every club this season. However, after being away for nearly two weekends in a row, some home cooking, family and friends will be a welcome sight.
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A nearly lifelong resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (journalism) and the University of Windsor (communications) and attended Windsor Spitfires (and OHL) games for 30 years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.