The Windsor Spitfires are here to stay. Entering the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Championship series, the Western Conference champs were in tough with the Eastern Conference (and regular season) champs, the Hamilton Bulldogs. After splitting a pair of road games to open the series, though, they’re proving they can hang with the favourites.
The Spitfires knew this series would be a tall task. The Bulldogs had gone 26-0-1 dating back into the regular season, including 12-0 in the playoffs, were second in the league in goals (300, Spitfires were first at 305), and had given up a league-best 176 goals. They’re a true powerhouse. That doesn’t mean Marc Savard’s club is a slouch, though. They were an offensive juggernaut, won 13-straight near the end of the season, and were ranked fourth in Canada in April. They just needed a chance to prove they could be the club to take out the Bulldogs. Games 1 and 2 at the First Ontario Centre in Hamilton were their chance to show this wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for the east champs.
Renwick Shines in Game 1 Overtime Thriller
While the Bulldogs were the favourites, the Spitfires aren’t about to just hand them the title. Savard has them peaking at the perfect time and both teams know this is going to be a long series.
The series started on Friday night and since they have not played each other (aside from pre-season) in over two years, it took time to get adjusted. A cautious first period led to just 18 shots combined. However, as the game went on, it all started to ramp up.
Avery Hayes opened the scoring for the Bulldogs but that was quickly countered by Spitfires’ captain Will Cuylle less than a minute later. From there, the teams lived up to the hype. While the home side outshot the visitors 35-19 in the final 40 minutes, goaltender Xavier Medina stood on his head. His club fell behind 3-1 but came storming back to force extra time.
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With all of the momentum, the visitors pounced on the home side in overtime. That’s where defenceman Michael Renwick, making his first trip to Hamilton following his trade in 2020, beat goaltender Marco Costantini for the stunning 4-3 win. The Spitfires take the series opener 1-0, ending the Bulldogs’ undefeated playoffs and 22-game winning streak.
The win comes just 48-hours after the Spitfires beat the Flint Firebirds in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. Savard said it’s a credit to his club’s resilience.
“We were in such a battle with Flint, for these guys to make this turnaround, I’m so proud of them,” he said.
“For us to be able to be able to come into their building and do what we did tonight, I give my guys a tap.”
This was the start the Spitfires wanted but they knew the Bulldogs would come out firing in Game 2.
Bulldogs Even Series
Beating the top-rated team on their turf means you need to be ready for revenge. The Bulldogs lost just seven times at home all season and only once back-to-back. If the Spitfires were going to take the sweep, they had to get the early jump.
Savard prepared them as best he could and it paid off. Just five minutes in, veteran defenceman Louka Henault did his part, opening the scoring for the visitors. They were confident and pressed the issue. However, it wasn’t long before the home side stormed back.
The Bulldogs scored four straight, including one from Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Mason McTavish, to make a statement. This was the team that everyone had expected. As Savard often says, though, stick to the game plan. His club kept pushing and, thanks to a pair from Matthew Maggio, got the game to 5-4.
Unfortunately for the Spitfires, this one wasn’t meant for overtime as the Bulldogs hung on for the 5-4 win. The series is now tied 1-1 and headed back to the WFCU Centre in Windsor for Games 3 and 4. After the game, Maggio said that being down didn’t change anything on their bench. They built valuable momentum in the third period and can use that for Game 3 on Monday.
“There’s no quit in the locker room, being down in the second, even by that many,” he said.
“That intensity in the last 20 minutes is something we’re going to carry into the next game.”
Getting the split was key for the Spitfires. They showed they can conquer the beasts from the east and now they have a chance to take care of business at home. Game 3 is set for Monday at 7 p.m. while Game 4 is Friday at 7 p.m.
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.
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