The Windsor Spitfires are set to open the 2023-24 Ontario Hockey League season. The
Spitfires play their first game in Sarnia on Friday night before returning home to face Guelph on Saturday at the WFCU Centre. As the Spits get set to hit the ice, they have some extra
After finishing first in the West Division and the Western Conference for two consecutive
seasons, the Spitfires this week learned they are ranked 16th out of 20 teams in preseason
rankings, as voted on by a panel of accredited OHL media. That means journalists and
broadcasters across the league are picking Windsor to finish 4th in their division and 8th in the conference, barely making the playoffs.
That doesn’t bother the players in the Windsor dressing room, who relish the opportunity to be the underdog. “I think we’re going to catch some people off guard,” says Windsor native and Spitfires forward Noah Morneau. “I think some people are writing us off since we lost (Matt) Maggio who was the best player in the league last year. That will be a big loss, but we have a lot of guys who are ready to step up and take on the new challenge.”
For the second straight year, the Spitfires have lost the reigning Red Tilson Award winner and
the league’s leading scorer. First, it was Wyatt Johnston who scored 46 goals and 124 points in 2021-22. Then it was Matthew Maggio who scored 54 goals and 111 points last season. But
scoring goals should not be a problem for this year’s squad, as Windsor returns nine forwards
from last year’s team that finished first in the league with 320 goals scored.
The offense will be led by a trio of overagers. Alex Christopoulos finished third in the OHL with 49 goals last season. Jacob Maillet was second in team scoring with 76 points and Oliver Peer added 67 points, good for fifth on the team. Windsor also returns Liam Greentree, who led all rookie skaters with 25 goals last season. Colton Smith, Ryan Abraham, Aidan Castle and AJ Spellacy join Noah Morneau as returning forwards. “I’m looking to take a step this year,” proclaims Morneau. “I hope to elevate my game and help this team win more games.”
Windsor’s forward unit will also include free agent acquisition Ryan Struthers as well as rookies Cole Davis and 2023 first-round pick Jack Nesbitt. Jack Greenwell, Alec Stewart and Ethan Martin will also start the regular season with the Spitfires due to injuries.
While the offense looks strong, pundits around the league have questions about Windsor’s
blueline. The Spitfires have four returning defencemen. Rodwin Dionicio, who had 50 points last season, and Anthony Cristoforo, who added 41 points as a rookie, bring some offensive flair.
They will be joined by returnees Nicholas DeAngelis and overager James Jodoin. Rookies
Carson Woodall, Tanner Winegard and CHL import pick Josef Eichler round out the defensive
unit. They will be called upon to replace key departures such as Michael Renwick, Daniil
Sobolev and Jacob Holmes. In goal, Windsor returns Joey Costanzo. The former Niagara Ice Dog won 26 games last season. His backup will be Ian Michelone, who was acquired in a trade from Flint last year.
The roster is still a work in progress. Windsor will start the regular season with four overage players – Christopoulos, Maillet, Peer and Jodoin. Christopoulos will miss at least the first two weeks of the season after having off-season wrist surgery. OHL teams can only dress three overage players in each game.
Many expect General Manager Bill Bowler to consider selling some of his assets to help restock the cupboard after going for it over the last two seasons. But if the NHL draft eligible players take the next step in their development (Cristoforo, Greentree, Spellacy, Davis, Woodall), Bowler may think twice.
There’s also a new bench boss in Windsor. Jerrod Smith is the new head coach, having been
promoted from associate coach after Marc Savard left after two seasons to become an assistant coach with the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Smith is an organizational success story. He has been with the Spitfires since 2011 when he was hired as the team’s video coach. Smith is joined on the bench by returning assistant Andy Delmore and new assistant coach Casey Torres.
Despite winning only one of the five preseason games, Smith says he’s excited for the start of the regular season. “There are some positives to take from the exhibition season. There’s a lot to improve, we can always improve but I am excited to get some players back and start the season on a winning note.”
Windsor will open the 2023-24 regular season on the road with a visit to the Sarnia Sting on
Friday night. The Spitfires will play their home opener against the Guelph Storm on Saturday.
Game time is 7:05 p.m. at the WFCU Centre. It will be the first of five straight home games for
Windsor, a great opportunity for the club to start strong and prove the pundits wrong.
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Manny Paiva is one of the voices of the Windsor Spitfires radio broadcast with Steve Bell on AM800. He is a respected broadcast journalist who has covered the Ontario Hockey League