A quick scan of the OHL Western conference shows three teams fighting
for the top spot. The Sault Greyhounds were expected to be there. Brampton was not and their amazing second season rolls on without any overagers and only 2 19 year olds in the lineup. The Windsor Spitfires are also there, much to the surprise of many. Their success has been due to a team effort, they do not have the stars that other teams boast. Yet they are ranked in the CHL top ten, sitting 7th.
Over the last few years this team has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whether it was star players being charged for off ice incidents, stars breaking curfews and being suspended, or the Jeff Kugel disgrace, a dark cloud has hung over this franchise. The hiring of Tom Webster has brought some class, leadership, stability and hope to the Spits. He has them playing tough, disciplined, hard nosed hockey, rolling 4 lines, pounding teams along the boards, and producing victory after victory. They follow through on their hits (if you are at a game, don’t follow the puck or you might miss a Spitfire run over an opponent who was admiring his pass), they forecheck tenaciously, and unlike the Peter Sarno years the forwards can pick their goalie out of a crowd of strangers.
This team does not have many NHL drafted players, Jeff Martin was a pick of the Sabres in 97, and is one of two overagers on the Spits. His points have declined the last 2 seasons, but the team is playing far better and he is being asked to play a different role than before. Fedor Fedorov was picked by the Lightning in 99 after playing in the United Hockey League. He is a big kid, strong skater, and plays a chippy game. He has to bear the burden of being the younger brother of Sergei. At age 18, another year of junior will help his development and may have a shot at cracking Tampas’ thin roster after that, but will need some time in the minors before that.
Rookie Steve Ott is battling for the rookie scoring lead, but his small stature will affect his draft position this year. He is a smooth, quick skater, who uses his teammates very well. He loves to throw hip checks that send opponents spinning out of control, and his mouth is often going as fast as his feet, infuriating opposing defencemen. Import Pavel Shtefan has played far better in his second season, skating well, using his size to create offensive chances. This 19 year old has been one of the teams’ best forwards, and has the team lead in plus minus. I would be surprised if some team didn’t take a chance on him this year at the draft. American Tim Gleason has impressed in his rookie year, and this smooth skating defenceman will get lots of attention for the 2001 draft.
The Spitfires play a lot of close hard hitting games, with the exception of the 9-0 hammering they gave Kitchener a few weeks ago, where they punished the Rangers young defence relentlessly, causing turnover after turnover. They have some big men like Blair Stayzer, Fedorov, Luc Rioux, but everyone on the team likes to hit. They have good team speed, and are obviously well coached. I’m sure they will continue to get good results with the style they are playing, but guys like Martin have to contribute a bit more offence for them to stay in the hunt.