(WINDSOR, ON) – With more than six weeks since being eliminated from the OHL playoffs by the London Knights, the Windsor Spitfires find themselves readying to play in the Memorial Cup while the Knights are on the golf course. On the eve of opening the round robin phase of the tournament, the Spitfires have gone from two-a-day workouts to situational training now that they know who they’ll be facing.
“We’ve prepared for a long time to get to this point. I think everyone’s nervous but excited to get things going,” said Spitfires defenseman Sean Day. “Practices are more structured around how (the Saint John Sea Dogs) play. You’re not just going through drills any more, you’re having systems set to play against that specific team.”
The Spitfires take to the ice in the opening game Friday evening against the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. The Dogs eliminated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada by sweeping them 4-0 just over a week ago. However, the Spitfires have taken advantage of their time off by getting healthy for the first time this season.
A major player returning to the Windsor lineup will be Logan Stanley.
“That’s huge. He plays 25 to 30 minutes a night when he was healthy, and he looks awesome on the ice,” said Day. “I’ll be playing with him and he’s a solid defensive guy who complements the way I play. It’ll be fun and exciting.”
For his part, Stanley says he is healthy and strong and looking forward to getting back into a game situation.
“We’ve been working really hard for the last couple of months. We’re ready now and we’re excited to play,” he said. “We’re healthy and rested and will come up playing for the fans Friday night.”
Joining Windsor and Saint John will be the OHL champion, Erie Otters, and the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds. The teams will play each other once to determine the seating for the semi-finals on May 26. The last two standing will meet head-to-head in the finals on May 28.
Perception is split on whether the Spitfires are underdogs or dark-horses in the tournament. For Stanley, he’s enjoying the underdog status.
“People can think that. We know we’re a good hockey team and we know what we’ve got in our room,” said Stanley. “So, media and other teams can think what they want about our team, but we know what we’ve got and we’re going to be ready for Friday.”
Number 3-ranked NHL draft contender Gabe Vilardi echoed Stanley’s thoughts.
“I think were all ready,” he said. “It’s been a long six weeks, that’s for sure, and it’s been a lot of hard work. We’re definitely fired up for Friday night. We can be viewed as the underdogs, but we’re coming out, we’re a great hockey team. We’ll just show everyone else what we’re capable of.”
General Manager Warren Rychel has confidence in the Spitfires and their chances in the tournament. He’s looking to certain players for their leadership to navigate through their opponents.
“Our team is solid,” said Rychel. “We have 10 signed NHL players. Ten guys teams believe have a chance to make the NHL. Plus Gabe (Vilardi). Plus Mikey (DiPietro). It’s a pretty strong contingent.”
But Rychel isn’t selling the Sea Dogs short. They are going to be a tough team to get past in the first game.
“They haven’t lost too many games. They kind have walked through the playoffs pretty easily,” he said. “Hopefully we can give a shot of the OHL and a shot of how tough the western conference was in the playoffs and down the stretch. We respect them, but I’m sure we don’t fear them. We’ll be ready.”
The Spitfires and Sea Dogs take to the ice Friday with the puck dropping at 7:00pm.