Hosting the Memorial Cup is a highly sought after privilege, and a huge opportunity to showcase your hockey club. To make the most of it, teams usually bulk up with talent to improve their chances of winning the event in front of their home crowd.
Due to a number of challenges the Spitfires have faced this year, the team might have a hard time competing with some of the titans out there in the major junior landscape this year. Think St. John, Erie and Regina (or if you’re from Windsor, don’t—for mental health’s sake).
Currently fighting for playoff seeding position in the OHL’s Western Conference, the Spitfires are 36-15-8 with 80 points. These are pretty good numbers, but with juggernauts like London and Erie around, the seven- to 11-point difference seems monumental.
The Spitfires might also have to worry about the best team in the CHL, the Regina Pats, whom anyone would agree stand the best chance of winning the WHL.
If a few things had gone differently this season, the Spitfires might have another 10 points in the standings right now. Senators prospect Logan Brown, arguably Windsor’s best player, has dealt with injuries all season, and only played half of the schedule. The constant stop and starts have influenced his production; he began the season with 17 points in his first seven games, but his pace has slowed to a crawl since.
There is hope for the team. At the deadline, team GM Warren Rychel acquired Jeremy Bracco (TOR) from the Kitchener Rangers. Although he hasn’t scored at the 1.89 point-per-game pace from before the trade, he has a few games left to develop some chemistry with Brown.
Rychel also improved the roster’s depth by making moves for Adam Laishram and David Robertson.
Top draft-eligible prospect (and HockeyNow 2015 Minor Hockey Player of the Year) Gabriel Vilardi has helped the team mightily in Brown’s absence. With 50 points in 40 games, he is by all accounts in the top 5 ranked prospect in the upcoming NHL draft. All eyes will be on his performance at the Memorial Cup, so expect a huge effort from him.
Also draft eligible is Michael DiPietro. This season has been a coming out party of sorts for the young goaltender, who has become the team’s number one. He’s replied to the extra pressure with aplomb, and his numbers are impressive (2.21 GAA, .922 SP). Although the team has struggled to score goals at times, DiPietro has kept the team competitive.
Vilardi and DiPietro aren’t the only NHL prospects on the team. The Spitfires are stacked with NHL-drafted talent, and although some have underperformed this season, they could find their game in time to wreak havoc at the tournament. The list includes:
The Spitfires could actually be helped by their underwhelming regular season performance. Given that the team could exit the OHL playoffs very early as a bottom-four seed, Brown might get a whole lot of time to fully recover from his injuries. The rest of the team could enjoy a long period rest as well.
Still, a long rest period isn’t always a good thing.
The last time a host won was 2012, when the Shawinigan Cataractes bested the London Knights in the final.
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