The Windsor Spitfires are in a difficult, yet very familiar position. After splitting the first four games of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Final with the Hamilton Bulldogs, the club hit the road for Game 5 on Sunday. Now, after running into a red-hot NHL prospect, they find themselves on the brink of elimination.
Just two weeks ago, the Spitfires were down 3-2 to the Flint Firebirds in the Western Conference Final. They pushed back, winning Game 6 in overtime, then grabbed a thrilling 4-0 win at home in Game 7 to clinch the Wayne Gretzky Trophy. This time, they’re trying to play catchup with the regular-season champion Bulldogs and it’s no easy feat. While coach Marc Savard’s club grabbed a 2-1 series lead, the favourites stormed back in Game 4 to snag an overtime win, tying the series 2-2 and regaining home ice. It started with Game 5 and that’s where Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Mason McTavish showed his stuff. He put everyone on alert and sent the Spitfires to the edge of their season.
McTavish Scores Pair, Bulldogs Grab Series Lead
After a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss at home in Game 4 on Friday, the Spitfires knew they had to bounce back in Game 5. The clubs met for a matinee at the FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton with over 7,600 fans packing into the rink, ready for a show.
The Bulldogs came out jumping, using their fans’ energy to their advantage. However, despite being outshot, the visitors celebrated first. A shot from Wyatt Johnston bounced off the end glass, off goaltender Marco Costantini, and into the goal for a 1-0 lead. The home side took the momentum back before the buzzer, though, thanks to a power play goal from Ryan Winterton.
In the second, Ryan Abraham responded for the Spitfires just three minutes in for a 2-1 lead. However, that’s when McTavish took over. On another power play, he put a bullet off the post and behind goaltender Mathias Onuska to tie it up. Then, early in the third, he continued his domination by batting his own rebound past Onuska for a 3-2 lead. Despite the visitors pressing late, the Bulldogs held the fort for the 3-2 win, taking a 3-2 series lead in the process.
The Bulldogs acquired McTavish from the Peterborough Petes at the deadline for several players and picks. After scoring 40 points in 24 regular-season games, the 19-year-old has added another 26 in 17 playoff games. After the game, Bulldogs’ head coach Jay McKee said he’s come as advertised.
“Mason’s a game-breaker,” he said. “He can do things out there that not a lot of guys can do. You see tonight, he goes out and scores two huge goals for us. That’s part of why he was brought in; he has that ability. He also has a motor that never stops…”
Game 5 Scoring Summary
Spitfires – Wyatt Johnston (14) from Will Cuylle – 8:42
Bulldogs – Ryan Winterton (7) from Avery Hayes and Logan Morrison (power play) – 14:12
Spitfires – Ryan Abraham (4) from Matthew Maggio and Louka Henault – 3:13
Bulldogs – Mason McTavish (13) from Logan Morrison and Avery Hayes (power play) – 12:58
Bulldogs – Mason McTavish (14) from Patrick Thomas – 1:59
Spitfires Face Do-or-Die Game 6
With Sunday’s loss, the scenario for the Spitfires is now very simple – win Game 6 on Monday or the season is done. However, don’t expect them to change up their game plan from Game 5. It’s worked for them far more often than not. Head coach Savard said if you play the right way, it’ll eventually go your way.
“That’s the good news about our team, we play the right way and we’ve done it all (season),” he said. “We didn’t change anything in the Flint series and we’re not changing anything now. We just keep putting in the effort on the ice like we did (Sunday) and hope the results change.”
The Spitfires are very familiar with this situation after being down 3-2 to the Firebirds in the last round. While it’s not an ideal spot to be in, they have the confidence and are coming home to a large crowd.
This is the same club that won 13-straight to end the regular season, plus 21-of-22 at home. Savard said that this is a golden chance for his club to show what they have.
“Our guys are giving it everything they have and our backs are against the wall like they were in Flint,” he said “The good news is we’re going back home. We owe our fans a good game and I know these guys want to play a good game for themselves. We’re excited; we’re still in it. First to four (wins) and there’s lots of hockey left.”
With the potential for over 6,000 fans in the WFCU Centre for Game 6, this should be a classic. As of Monday morning, limited tickets still remain for this final home game. Puck drop is 7:00 PM. Game 7 would be Wednesday back in Hamilton.
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.