It is the midway point of the 2023-2024 Ontario Hockey League regular season. And five head to head matches between the Flint Firebirds and Windsor Spitfires could be major factors in deciding the eighth and final playoff spot in the OHL’s Western Conference.
The series of showdowns begins on Wednesday of this week and the others follow on February 17, February 29, March 1 and March 16. Notably, the last four matches between the Firebirds and Spitfires will be less than 30 days apart.
Flint currently has possession of the eighth spot in the Western Conference with 31 points from a record of 14-18-3. Windsor is in 10th and last place but is just six clicks back of Flint with 25 points from an 11-20-3 record. Windsor has a game in hand on both Flint and the ninth place Sarnia Sting, which is sandwiched between the Spitfires and Firebirds with 27 points from a record of 13-21-1.
Windsor, which has earned four of a possible six points via record of 1-0-2 since play resumed following the Christmas break, has shown notable improvement since firing head coach Jerrod Smith and replacing him with interim bench boss Casey Torres. The Spitfires have a record of 7-4-2 with Torres at the helm after going 4-16-1 with Smith running the bench.
What could also play a factor in the race for eighth place in the Western Conference is what the teams do ahead of the approaching January 10 trade deadline. Will they buy, sell, or stay the course is the big question.
Flint, of note, moved out veteran assets for future draft picks in two trades before Christmas. The Firebirds flipped 2005 birth year forward Ethan Hay to the Saginaw Spirit for six draft picks and then shipped 2006 birth year defenseman Reed Gee and a draft pick to the Mississauga Steelheads for three higher picks.
Meanwhile, Windsor general manager Billy Bowler has been wearing his trader’s hat with regularity since the start of this season.
Among the trades that Bowler has made include dealing 2004 birth year defenseman Nick DeAngelis and ’06 defender Trevor O’Dell to the Sudbury Wolves for ’06 blue liner Conor Walton (formerly of the Espanola Paper Kings of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League) for four draft picks including two seconds, a third and a sixth; adding ’04 defender Connor Toms from the Soo Greyhounds for a late round pick; trading two third round picks and a fourth to the Kingston Frontenacs for ’05 forward Owen Outwater; shipping overage forward Alex Christopoulos, ’04 defenseman Rodwin Dionicio and a draft pick to Saginaw for ’04 forward Valentin Zhuyin, overage defender Roberto Mancini and a haul of draft picks that included two second rounders and a fourth.