March 28, 2023

Good teams realize that a loss is just a chance for redemption. The Windsor Spitfires haven’t had many bumps in the road this season, but the few are all taken in stride. This past weekend, that approach continued as they try to hold onto their lead atop the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Western Conference.

The start of the Spitfires’ 2022-23 season has been beyond most expectations. Despite losing some key talents to graduation, the club has shot to the top of the Western Conference standings and came into last weekend having lost just once in regulation in 11 games. While losing that game was tough, they found a way to bounce back, just like they did last season when they made it to the OHL Championship. Head coach Marc Savard has instilled confidence in his group, and they’ve responded after every speedbump. This past weekend was no different, either. Here are three takeaways from a very busy weekend.

3 Takeaways from Sting, Steelheads, and Frontenacs

Weekend results:

Thurs., Nov. 3 – 5-3 win over Sarnia Sting (home)
Sat., Nov. 5 – 6-3 loss to Mississauga Steelheads (road)
Sun., Nov. 6 – 6-3 win over Kingston Frontenacs (home)

3. Loss Response is Crucial

Losses are going to happen regardless of how talented you are or what league you’re in. Even the 2009-10 Memorial Cup championship Spitfires lost over a dozen games. However, it’s how you respond that’s the most important part, and so far, the club has aced that test.

After their first regulation loss, on Oct. 29 in Erie against the Otters, the club was looking for redemption at home against the Sting. They put the loss behind them with a dominating 5-3 win over the Sting at home on Thursday. It was the statement they wanted, not only for the league but for themselves. The story repeated on Sunday. They had a poor road outing against the Steelheads on Saturday, allowing five-straight goals in the 6-3 loss. However, they took advantage of some home cooking on Sunday, got their offence going, and beat the Frontenacs 6-3. You’re going to lose games, but Savard said on Sunday that good teams find a way to rebound.

“We have the thing where we don’t want to lose two in a row,” he said.

“Good teams, that’s generally the slogan, not to lose two in a row. We’ve been able to do that for most of the season. It’s great that, when you lose like we did, you get a chance to redeem yourself 24 hours later. There’s nothing better as a hockey player … and I thought everybody contributed tonight.”

Marc Savard Head Coach Windsor Spitfires
Windsor Spitfires’ head coach Marc Savard. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

The Spitfires don’t lose back-to-back games often, and this was no different. A good team finds a way to redeem itself, and Savard has instilled a good mentality in his team. As long as they keep that going, success will find them.

2. Costanzo Earning Playing Time

When the Spitfires acquired Joey Costanzo from the Niagara IceDogs in late September, they saw a 17-year-old rookie goaltender who could learn from veteran Mathias Onuska and get some starts along the way. However, after just four starts, he’s pushing Savard for more ice.

Drafted in the second round in 2021, Costanzo struggled a bit last season with a 4.92 goals-against-average (GAA) and .879 save percentage in 17 games. Given he was one of the top-rated goaltenders of the draft, though, and the IceDogs allowed an OHL-worst 316 goals, the fault was placed more with the defence in front of him. Now, with a better Spitfires’ defence to help, he’s slowly becoming what general manager Bill Bowler had envisioned.

Joseph Costanzo Windsor Spitfires
Rookie goaltender Joey Costanzo has been lights out for the Windsor Spitfires. (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Costanzo got the start on Sunday against the Frontenacs and promptly made 32 saves to earn the third star. In four games so far, he has a 2.92 GAA and .912 SV%, with his only four-plus-goal blemish coming in an 8-4 win over his former club.

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While Onuska has been up-and-down all season (4.01 GAA, .877 SV%), Costanzo has taken his game to a new level. Savard said the team has plenty of confidence in him.

“He’s come in (Sunday) and did another great job,” Savard said.

“Feels like another steal (trade), the way he’s played for us. I know the guys have confidence in him. They love him. As a kid, he practices hard every day. He’s the first guy in here, whether he’s starting or not. He’s dialled in and we’re glad to have him on our side.”

The Spitfires fully expect Onuska to carry them this season while mentoring Costanzo. However, if the youngster keeps playing this well, don’t be surprised if he forces Savard’s hand, and this becomes a tandem before too long.

1. CHL Top 10 is Motivation

Last season, the Spitfires were mainstays in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Top-10 rankings. They reached number four near the start of the playoffs, and that confidence pushed them straight to the OHL Championship Series.

While they lost stars Wyatt Johnston (Dallas Stars) and Will Cuylle (New York Rangers) to the pros this season, the club had enough returning talent to catch attention in October. They were given an Honourable Mention in back-to-back weeks before moving up to eighth near the end of the month. Last week, they jumped up a spot to seventh and they remain there this week.

Week 6 sees some movement atop the @kiacanada CHL Top 🔟 rankings❗️

It’s still very early in the season, and a lot can change. However, Savard said that the players use it as motivation.

“We had the honourable mentions for a couple of weeks so we just wanted to keep pushing,” he said on Thursday.

“We snuck into eighth and then back up to seventh. It’s great to have it there. The guys have something to push for and they’ve done a great job.”

Spitfires’ forward Jacob Maillet, who came over in a trade with the Guelph Storm last season, said the rankings are something that brings the team together. They want to show what they’re capable of.

“When it comes out during the week, it gives everyone a boost,” he said.

“We’re a top team in the nation. That helps us bring it every night to prove we want to be there every week. We want to stay on that list.”

They’ll get more chances to prove they’re worthy when the Peterborough Petes come to town on Thursday night and the London Knights visit on Saturday. The club will also honour Canada’s veterans prior to Thursday night’s game with displays outside the rink and on-ice presentations.

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