by Brett Hedges
The Lance – Sports Editor
The Windsor Spitfires dropped their first game of the post-holiday break to the Sarnia Sting earlier this week at the WFCU Centre.
The Sting held leads of 2-1 and 3-2 at the end of the first and second period and popped three goals in the third to double-up the Spitfires 6-3 in front of 5,114 fans in attendance at the WFCU Centre Dec. 28.
Spitfires head coach Rocky Thompson said he liked Windsor’s effort and there were positives to take from the game but was disappointed his team ultimately beat themselves by missing out on certain scoring chances.
“We just didn’t hit our shots. We put a lot of grade-A scoring chances right into the chest,” Thompson said. “You want to make their goalie make a save in those areas but I think we let him off the hook a little bit on a lot of chances like empty nets. We have to be able to bear down and execute in those situations to score the goals we needed to score.”
The Spitfires entered the contest sitting in first place of the OHL West division with 20 wins and a six point cushion over the division rival Sting, who have two games in hand. With a four-point swing hanging in the balance, Spits overage goaltender Garrett Hughson, 20, took the crease across from Sting backup Kaden Fulcher, 17, who ended up making a number of key saves and was named the game’s first star.
Spitfires right winger Christian Fischer said frustrated was the most common word to use when describing his line’s inability to score on the multiple chances Windsor had throughout the contest. Along with Fischer and his linemates Logan Brown and Brendan Lemieux, the trio combined for 17 of Windsor’s 36 shots.
“There were a lot of chances out there for our line and other lines,” Fischer said. “We had a lot of power play chances and empty net chances but their goalie played unbelievable. But we can’t blame the goalie for playing too well, we have to bear down, but it is frustrating.”
Sting leading scorer Pavel Zacha was away playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey championships in Finland while Windsor had their full roster – as no Spitfires players were selected to represent their country at the world junior level for the second year in a row.
Despite the absence of Zacha the Sting found secondary scoring early and often in this contest between OHL west division rivals. Sarnia scored the opening goal at 5:38 of the first period with a snipe over the right shoulder of Hughson by Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Nikita Korostelev with assists given to Troy Lajeunesse and Jacob Chychrun.
Windsor native and Sting forward Anthony Salinitri took a penalty and his hometown Spitfires made him pay for his mistake. A power play goal at 8:35 of the first evened the score 1-1. Cole Carter tapped in a rebound for his fourth of the year with assists credited to Aaron Luchuk and Cristiano DiGiacinto. Just 37 seconds later however a quick Sarnia goal put the visitors up 2-1. Jordan Kyrou’s seventh assisted by Lajeunesse & Matt Mistele gave Sarnia a lead after 20 minutes despite being 14-9 in frame.
The Sting then took a 3-1 lead early in the second when a goal from Leamington native Hayden Hodgson took nearly nine minutes of review to finalize the call.
Windsor would respond shortly after with a power play from rookie defencemen Mikhail Sergachev. The highly-scouted Russian blasted a shot from the point for his 10th goal of the year just 12 seconds after Sarnia’s Chychrun took a holding penalty to cut Sarnia’s lead to one.
Windsor held a 25-15 lead in shots but still trailed the Sting by a goal at the second intermission.
Windsor got a big boost from the blue-line early in the third when 6’7″ defencemen Logan Stanley’s second goal of the season evened the game when he skated into the circle and pounded a slap shot past Fulcher just 2:30 into the frame for a 3-3 tie.
However, a pair of goals over a span of three minute span put the Sting up for good. First, a power play tally from Sarnia put the visitors up 4-3. Hodgson scored his second of the game when he finished off a centering pass from Kyrou and slid it past Hughson.
“We had some miscues on our penalty kill, which has been struggling – but we didn’t give up many chances,” Thompson said. “We couldn’t clear the puck and as sure as anything, when you don’t it is the kiss of death and it ends up in the back of your net. That’s tough to swallow because we have been working on addressing those situations.”
Another Sarnia goal put the visitors up 5-3 and forced Windsor to pull Hughson for an extra attacker with under two minutes to go.
Despite peppering the young goaltender for a total of 36 total shots, the Spitfires were unable to put the puck past Fulcher. Sarnia’s Mistele completed the scoring with his 15th of the year into an empty-net goal with just over one minute to play which secured a 6-3 victory and narrowed Windsor’s lead in OHL west division. Hughson finished the game with 15 saves on 20 shots in his 12th OHL start since being acquired by the Spits in late Oct.
“It was a missed opportunity because it was a very good team we were playing,” Thompson said. “But I liked the way we played and I thought we controlled most of the game.”
The Spitfires are back home for OHL action at the WFCU Centre on New Years Eve for a matinée game against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds Dec. 31. Opening puck drop is at 2:05 p.m.