Spitfires not bad in between

March 25, 2024

WINDSOR — Between a bad start and a bad finish the Windsor Spitfires were not a bad team in the middle of this season. But after finishing atop the Western Conference standings the previous two seasons, the Spitfires failed to qualify for the Ontario Hockey League playoffs this time around.

Under first year head coach Jerrod Smith, the Spitfires sputtered to a 4-16-1 start to begin the 2023-2024 season. Thus, after just 21 games, Smith was fired and Casey Torres was elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach.

With Torres at the helm, the Spitfires actually played .500 hockey over the next 34 games — the equivalent of half a season — with a record of 14-14-6. Thus, it seemed that the Spitfires actually were the .500 team that many thought they were capable of being this season.

However, with Torres still in command as interim bench boss, the Spitfires proceeded to go into a sharp nosedive and over the final 13 games of the season, they went win-less with a record of 0-12-1.

Add it all up and the final tally for the ’23-24 season was the Spitfires finishing with a record of 18-42-8 — they were 14-26-7 under Torres — and in last place among the 10 teams of the OHL’s Western Conference.

Spitfires general manager Billy Bowler. (Windsor Star photo.)

So what comes ahead of next season? Will Torres get the interim tag removed and officially be named head coach? Or will the 0-12-1 finish to the season be enough for Spitfires general manager Billy Bowler to seriously look to someone else to be Windsor’s next head coach? Quite clearly, Bowler, as the GM, faces a crucial and critical decision as to who will be the Spitfires head coach when the first puck drops on the 2024-2025 season.

To be sure — and as an example — as the Soo Greyhounds returned to OHL stature this season after missing the playoffs last season, it is somewhat anticipated and envisioned that the Spitfires will rev their engine up the ranks in the Western Conference next season. 

Not only did the Spitfires aforementioned, on the ball general manager Billy Bowler add no less than seven future draft picks just prior to this year’s trade deadline, Windsor has a solid foundation of young players to boost and build on for next season and beyond. 

There is also a bracket of potential overage players who could return to help pilot the Spitfires’ flight plan for next season that includes the likes of forwards Ryan Abraham, Noah Morneau and Colton Smith and defenseman Connor Toms. Notably, Abraham netted 31 goals for the Spitfires during the 2023-2024 regular season.

Spitfires star forward Liam Greentree. (photo by Natalie Shaver)

Especially, though, it is the younger generation that hold the keys to the airborne Spitfire cylinder.

Windsor already has its franchise player in 2006 birth year forward Liam Greentree. One of the youngest captains in Spitfires history, the 6 foot 2, 200 pound Greentree led the team in scoring by a wide margin this season with 36 goals, 54 assists, 90 points. Only 10 OHL players had more points this season than Greentree, who is poised to become a first round pick at this year’s National Hockey League draft. In fact, Greentree could be among the top 10 picks.

The 2006 age group of Spitfires also features a promising class of forwards Cole Davis and A.J. Spellacy and defensemen Anthony Cristoforo, Carson Woodall and Conor Walton. Davis became a 20 goal scorer as an OHL rookie and Spellacy also hit that mark as a second year skater.

Then there is 2007 birth year forward Jack Nesbitt, who was Windsor’s first round pick at the 2023 OHL priority selections draft. Nesbitt has size at 6-foot-4 to go with skill and is projected to become a future Spitfire standout after a rookie season that included nine goals, nine assists, 18 points in 58 games.

There are also players with 2005 birth dates who could be somewhere in the mix as 19-year olds next season — defensemen Josef Eichler and Tanner Winegard and goalie Joey Costanzo. Winegard, of note, led all Spitfire defensemen who played in at least 50 games this season on the plus-minus chart.

Bowler, as the GM, seems to have the Spitfires on course to at the very least return to the playoffs next season. But the flight plan still needs some adjusting. As does who will be the pilot that sits in the head coach’s cockpit.

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