CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Spitfires surging on the road

A 13-game stretch away from home isn’t something you’d typically see in the Canadian Hockey League, but with the FINA World Swimming Championships in Windsor, the Spitfires have hit the open road and are making the most of their extended trek across the OHL.

The Spits are 7-1-2-0 since their last home game back on November 18th, recently completing a perfect 3-0 weekend in the north where they defeated Barrie, Sudbury and North Bay, outscoring their opponents 12-0.

CHL Goaltender of the Week Michael DiPietro recorded shutouts in all three games, entering this week with a 204:16 run of perfect shutout hockey. The 17-year-old draft eligible netminder is approaching recent OHL shutout marks set by Owen Sound’s Jordan Binnington (211:32, 2012-13) and Niagara’s Mark Visentin (237:53, 2011-12).

“The guys are making it easy for me pushing guys to the outside,” DiPietro told the Windsor Star’s Jim Parker after Sunday’s win in North Bay. “I feel really good right now.”

Perhaps most impressive about their recent run of success, the Spitfires have done their damage without the services of injured stars Logan Brown and Gabriel Vilardi. A recent injury to sophomore scorer Cole Carter has only complicated things further.

“We’ve got a depleted lineup and we find ways to pull through with games,” DiPietro continued. “It shows how deep a team we have.”

The 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup hosts sit atop the West Division with a record of 21-5-4-0, holding off the high-scoring Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in a back-and-forth battle that has seen the two clubs take turns in the driver’s seat.

With Brown and Vilardi out, the Spits have received contributions up front from Anaheim Ducks prospect Julius Nattinen, who has 21 points (5-16–21) over 22 games this season. Overage winger Jeremiah Addison has 20 points (11-9–20) while 19-year-old veteran Aaron Luchuk leads the team in scoring with 28 points (12-16–28). The Spits recently gave their offence a boost, bringing in Chicago Blackhawks prospect Graham Knott from the Niagara IceDogs.

On the blue line, 18-year-old veteran Sean Day is second among OHL defencemen with 10 goals on the season and recently recorded his first hat-trick in the final OHL game at Joe Louis Arena on December 4th. A native of nearby Rochester, Michigan, Day completed a natural hat-trick when he scored the overtime winner to give the Spitfires a 3-2 victory over the Saginaw Spirit.

One shouldn’t overlook Montreal Canadiens first round pick Mikhail Sergachev who has 11 points (1-10–11) over 16 games since being returned from an extended stay in the NHL to start the season.

The reigning OHL Defenceman of the Year says Spitfires coach Rocky Thompson provides his club the freedom to be creative offensively.”We’re playing pretty simple (hockey),” he told Parker following last weekend’s action. “Our coach let’s us do whatever we want to do in the (offensive) zone, but in the neutral zone and (defensive) zone we have to play a system. As you can see, we’re winning games.”

With injuries mounting, the holiday break can’t come soon enough for the Spitfires who finish the first half with road games in Niagara and Erie this weekend before a well-deserved week off. They’ll return to home ice for three of their following four contests on the other side of the break.

If their play of late is any indication, the Spitfires are shaping up to be a very competitive Mastercard Memorial Cup host.

Written with files from Jim Parker of the Windsor Star

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