SPITFIRES GET LIFT FROM QMJHL

With ros­ter in flux, Me­mo­rial Cup champs now 4-0 in ex­hi­bi­tion ac­tion

Windsor Star - - SPORTS - JIM PARKER jp­parker@post­media.com

The Quebec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League has been a sec­ond­chance refuge for many play­ers from this prov­ince that could not land a spot in the On­tario Hockey League.

With a ros­ter in a re­build­ing phase, the Wind­sor Spitfires might be re­vers­ing that trend. The club had four for­mer QMJHL play­ers in the lineup for Friday’s 5-2 ex­hi­bi­tion win over the Sar­nia Sting at the WFCU Cen­tre.

“I wasn’t sur­prised to come back to this league,” Spitfires for­ward Jake Smith said. “I wanted to fin­ish where I started and make an im­pact.

“They’re all good leagues, but it’s nice to end up back in On­tario for my (over­age) year.”

The Spitfires landed a top six de­fence­man on its Me­mo­rial Cup cham­pi­onship team last year in Austin McE­neny when the Wa­ter­down na­tive re­turned to On­tario af­ter a sea­son with the Quebec Rem­parts.

Now, Smith has joined the team af­ter two years in the QMJHL with three clubs. Igor Lar­i­onov, who is the son of the for­mer NHLer of the same name, came aboard af­ter a sea­son with the Rem­parts while Joseph Mizzi spent time last sea­son with the Cape Bre­ton Scream­ing Ea­gles.

“Some­times in ju­nior hockey, the way the sys­tem is with the draft, if you’re not a high pick or a big guy, camp is short and if you’re not in the pic­ture, you can get squeezed out,” Spitfires head coach Trevor Le­towski said. “It’s a sec­ond chance and in this at­mo­sphere, with jobs open, we have to be open minded. For the most part, those guys seem to be en­er­gized by the op­por­tu­nity and we like all three of them.”

Smith was an 11th-round pick of Mis­sis­sauga in 2013, but never played a game. He had 22 goals and 44 points last sea­son, but got squeezed out of an over­age spot.

“There were guys with 55 points that couldn’t find a spot and they’ve packed it in for the year,” said the 20-year-old Smith, who picked up an as­sist on Wind­sor’s first goal on Friday. “I had 22 (goals) last year and I’m hop­ing to have more this year and bring some lead­er­ship.”

Lar­i­onov was born in Detroit when his dad was play­ing for the Red Wings. A for­mer 12th-round pick by Sag­i­naw in 2014, he’s happy to be closer to home.

“I was look­ing to come closer to home and this was prob­a­bly the best op­tion,” said the 19-yearold Lar­i­onov, who had a goal in Friday’s win. “My dad sort of reached out to say I was in­ter­ested in com­ing back to (On­tario).”

Mizzi, who is from Markham, was a sev­enth-round pick in the OHL in 2014 and played a full sea­son with the Hamil­ton Bull­dogs be­fore head­ing to the QMJHL.

“It’s ob­vi­ously a change, but it feels like I’m back home,” said the 19-year-old Mizzi, who also scored on Friday. “It’s just a bet­ter fit in the O(HL) and you have more ex­po­sure and I’m back with the same group of guys I grew up play­ing with.”

While Wind­sor will ice a younger lineup this sea­son, Spitfires gen­eral man­ager War­ren Ry­chel said you need older play­ers in the lineup to help the tran­si­tion for younger play­ers, which is why get­ting play­ers like Smith, Liri­onov and Mizzi is valu­able to the team.

“You need it,” Ry­chel said. “You can’t go all 16- and 17-year-old play­ers. You need to be a lit­tle bit older.”

Over­age cap­tain Aaron Luchuk scored twice in Friday’s win, with Mathew MacDougall notch­ing the other as Wind­sor im­proved to 4-0 in ex­hi­bi­tion play. Rookie goalie Brock Baier al­lowed third­pe­riod goals to Con­nor Sch­licht­ing and Hugo Leufve­nius, but fin­ished with 26 saves to earn the win.

The Spitfires will wrap up ex­hi­bi­tion play on Saturday against the Sting in Sar­nia and then pre­pare for Thurs­day’s sea­son opener at home against the Sag­i­naw Spirit.

For the most part, these guys seem to be en­er­gized by the op­por­tu­nity.

DAN JANISSE

Con­nor Sch­licht­ing, left, of the Sar­nia Sting and Jake Smith of the Spitfires bat­tle dur­ing ex­hi­bi­tion ac­tion Friday.

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