This weekend, I got to see two of them when I caught a pair of games at the WFCU Centre. The first saw the Spitfires fall by a score of 6-3 to the Guelph Storm in their home opener. In the second, the Spitfires captured their first victory of the season by a 2-0 mark over the Sarnia Sting.
In the first game, the Spitfires looked every bit the part of a team that was featuring five players making their OHL debut. There was a lot of standing around waiting for someone to take control of the game, and by the time the first 20 minutes were up, goaltender John Cullen had allowed just one goal on 17 shots. By comparison, the Spitfires had only managed to throw four shots at Storm goalie Brandon Foote.
Nick Ebert was perhaps the lone bright spot on the Spitfires blue line in that game. Playing on the top pairing with team captain Adrian Robertson, Ebert looked the part of the seasoned vet, despite Robertson being three years his senior.
It is just Ebert’s second year in the OHL, but he looks very comfortable as the number one guy on the backend, taking over for Ryan Ellis, who turned professional with the Nashville Predators organization. He was constantly in the right position, and he broke up numerous odd-man scoring chances for Guelph that were caused when Robertson was caught pinching.
He used his body and stick well to keep attackers to the outside, and he played with a physical edge.
He’s been quarterbacking a Windsor power play that, early in the season, is clicking at better than 31% through the opening week of the season.
The second game of the weekend saw our number one ranked prospect, Nail Yakupov, and the Sarnia Sting come to town. Yakupov and company were riding high into Windsor, following a season opening win over Erie by a 5-2 margin. Yakupov had two assists to go along with the game-winning goal in that contest.
The Spitfires were determined not to let him beat them, and they administered some of the tightest checking I have ever seen dedicated to one player. He didn’t have an inch to breathe all game long.
It was especially fun watching he and Ebert do battle on numerous occasions.
Even with how little room Yakupov had to move, his skill level was plainly evident. His takeaway speed is second to none, and he is constantly circling around in the offensive zone looking for a scoring opportunity.
He also carried the puck effectively into the Windsor end on a number of occasions, but his linemates let him down more than once by not being able to capitalize on his crisp passes. He was without his regular center, Alex Galchenyuk, which may have also hampered his effectiveness.
I caught up with his agent, Igor Larionov, after the game, and asked him about just that.
Larionov acknowledged that while the two of them are a force to be reckoned with, it is up to Yakupov to generate offense no matter who is on the ice with him.
“When you have a nice linemate, you have really good chemistry with them, it takes some of the attention from other players” Larionov said. “In hockey, you have to find a way to play, it doesn’t matter who you play with, you have to find a way to create some chances and score some goals”.
Larionov was also quick to praise Windsor goalie Jack Campbell, who was drafted 13th overall by Dallas two years ago.
“The goalie was unbelievable, Jack Campbell. He played unbelievable.”
Windsor and Sarnia will hook up again in two weeks as Yakupov will look to break the lock the Spitfire defense had on him and even up the season series.