by Brett Hedges
The Lance – Sports Editor
A big trade by Windsor Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel snapped a five-game losing streak this past weekend and earned five out of a possible six points in the process.
In the wake of dropping four consecutive games and only winning one of eight games, Rychel made a call to the Barrie Colts and acquired 19-year old left winger Brendan Lemieux, who was a second round NHL draft pick in 2014 by the Buffalo Sabres and is currently signed with the Winnipeg Jets.
Rychel felt his team needed a shot in the arm and the Spitfires felt Lemieux’s NHL-caliber offensive impact right away as the gritty forward racked up six points on four goals and two assists in three games.
The weekend began with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Mississauga Steelheads at the WFCU Centre Dec. 8. but bounced back to blank the Sarnia Sting 3-0 on the road the next night on the strength of 29 saves by Mike DiPietro and a natural hat trick from Lemieux. Two days later, Windsor capped off the weekend with a 4-3 overtime victory over the CHL’s third-ranked team in the Kitchener Rangers.
Less than six hours after the Lemieux trade went through, the Winnipeg Jets product was in a Spitfires uniform and made his presence felt by delivering multiple body checks and collecting three shots in one shift midway through the first period against Mississauga.
Lemieux skated on Windsor’s top line alongside right wing Christian Fischer and centre Logan Brown and head coach Rocky Thompson said he likes the potential the trio have to become a dominant line in the OHL.
“No doubt, Lemieux is going to be a big addition to this team and to the success of this hockey club,” Thompson said. “That line is one that can compete and be up their against any first line in this league. I think that line is going to be important for us and a big catalyst to our success this season and to a playoff run.”
The weekend did not start out as well as Windsor had hoped as they trailed 1-0 after one period despite outshooting Mississauga 11-8 in the frame. After Dan Beaudoin and Jalen Chatfield took consecutive penalties in the second period the Steelheads took a timeout to rest their top power play unit – all of which were NHL draft picks or are eligible for this selection this summer. As Beaudoin’s penalty expired Owen Tippett whipped a wrist shot past Hughson for a 2-0 lead.
Windsor kept pressure in the Steelheads zone and finished the period with 24 total shots on goal but were unable to solve Mississauga net minder Jack Flinn. Brown scored his sixth of the season assisted by Bradley Latour and Lemieux on a power play with 4:22 left in the third period to cut the deficit in half. Windsor would get another power play opportunity less than five minutes later and this time the new addition would score his first goal as a Spitfire on a rebound to register his second point of the night and tie the game 2-2.
The lineup of Brown, Fischer and Lemieux continued to dominate in the offensive zone throughout the third but it was a four-on-four opportunity which led to some wide open hockey with time winding down. Windsor’s Aaron Luchuk would show off of his skill set when he picked up a rolling puck and decked around Flinn and put the Spitfires up 3-2 with 3:11 remaining in the game.
Mississauga would pull their goalie with under 90 seconds left in regulation and would cash in on a rebound with just a fraction under one minute left and send the game into overtime with each team having earned a point after 60 minutes of regulation ended in a 3-3 tie. Windsor outshot Mississauga 36-21 in regulation but would once again need an extra frame to decide a victor. Each team had their chances but a big save from Hughson on a breakaway was shortly followed up by a game-winning goal from Damian Bourne at 3:42 of overtime.
“I thought we deserved to win,” Lemieux said. “We out shot them and I feel we played pretty well. Obviously I wanted to get a win in my first game with Windsor but it wasn’t in the cards. It was a good game; we had a good team effort. I just had trouble remembering my line-mate’s names.”
The next night was Windsor’s first of eight meetings with the Sarnia Sting this season and Thompson called it the biggest game of year. The Spitfires answered their head coach’s call and snapped a nagging, five-game losing skid in a 3-0 victory over the Sting Dec. 11.
Lemieux scored all three of his goals in the third period after neither team could find the back of the net for the first 40-plus minutes. Fischer assisted on all three goals and three separate Spifires defensemen – Mikhail Sergachev, Logan Stanley and Chatfield – all chipped in with an assist as Windsor moved five points up on Sarnia for top spot in the OHL’s West division.
Two days later it was Chatfield’s seventh goal of the season which served as the overtime winner in the Spitfires 4-3 victory over the CHL’s third-ranked Kitchener Rangers in front of 4,610 at the WFCU Centre Dec. 13. The 19-year-old defenseman was in perfect position to swat home a Latour rebound which gave Windsor it’s second straight win.
“The confidence is back, we’ve been playing good the last two weeks,” Chatfield said. “We just weren’t getting any bounces but this week we did.”
The Spits took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after 20 minutes on the strength of goals by Cristiano DiGiacinto and Gabriel Vilardi in a 32-second span of the opening period. After goals by Darby Llewellyn and Gustaf Franzen got the Rangers back even at 2-2, Latour capitalized on a Lemieux rebound, putting the Spits up 3-2 with a power play marker at 15:31 of the second period. Ryan MacInnis scored Kitchener to force overtime, setting the stage for Chatfield’s heroics.
DiPietro made 27 saves for the win and Luke Richardson made 26 saves but took the loss while Kitchener dropped to 23-3-4.
The Spits will next see action when they battle with the Saginaw Spirit at the WFCU Centre Dec. 17. The teams will meet again two nights later to wrap up the pre-holiday portion of their schedules. Puck drop on both nights is at 7:05 p.m.