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Spitfires burn Gens at home, ruin goalie’s debut

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Justin Nichols made 21 saves in his Oshawa Generals debut that saw them fall 4-2 to the Windsor Spitfires.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It was a momentum killer the Oshawa Generals just couldn’t recover from.

The second period of Oshawa’s Jan. 10 matchup against the Windsor Spitfires saw the good guys leading 1-0 off a marker from Kenny Huether, who slammed home a pass from Anthony Cirelli. The goal gave Huether the team scoring lead with 16 on the season.

With under three minutes to go in the frame, Windsor took quick advantage of an Oshawa hooking penalty to even the score, and things would only go from bad to worse. With 14 seconds left in the period, the Spitfires would extend their lead to two goals off a top-shelf shot by Christian Fischer. Oshawa would add a late third period goal off a wrister from Jalen Smereck, but Windsor would come out on top 4-2.

“That really put a kind of deflation in our attitudes,” said head coach Bob Jones of the second period goals. “I thought we gained some momentum late in the third, but it was too late by then.”

Overall, Jones says he felt his team played well against Windsor, one of the top teams in the western conference, outshooting the club 34-25. Currently, the Spitfires lead the conference’s western division with a 25-11-5-0 record.

“Our players worked hard, they executed the game plan for the most part. We just fell a little bit short,” Jones said.

The matchup was also the first opportunity for Oshawa to showcase newly acquired goaltender Justin Nichols.

Nichols, picked up a few short days prior, has spent the last three seasons with the Guelph Storm, including the club’s 2013/14 OHL Championship winning season. In 23 games with the ailing Guelph club this year (currently sitting with a 7-29-3-0 record), Nichols earned a 0.903 save percentage.

The veteran goaltender had a solid first start for Oshawa, stopping 21 of 25 shots, including an acrobatic kick save in the first period that had the crowd roaring.

“That’s kind of a little bit how I play. I like to throw things at guys they might not be expecting,” Nichols said of the diving save. “I thought I might try something a little exciting and the fans seemed to like it.”

Despite the loss, Nichols said he was happy with his first time adorning the Gens jersey.

“Obviously not the result we wanted out there,” he said. “But it’s good to get my feet under myself here and get a feel for the systems and stuff like that and we’ll build from here.”

The 20-year-old St. Catherines native becomes the only overage player on the Oshawa roster, and he says he hopes to use that position to lead some of the younger players

“I can bring some leadership and consistency back there and the guys can learn from me and it will be great for them,” he says.

According to Jones, Oshawa will carry three goaltenders going forward, with Nichols joining starter Jeremy Brodeur and rookie Logan Gauthier.

The acquisition of a third goaltender also had some fans asking questions, as the move to acquire a player in his final OHL season didn’t particularly fit with a club that is looking to rebuild after a Memorial Cup winning season. But for Jones, the acquisition was simply about strengthening their back end, especially after the loss of defenceman Jacob Graves, sent to the London Knights in an earlier trade.

“With the absence of Gravy (Jacob Graves) now, you’d like to pick up another defenceman, but the price on a defenceman is extremely high and there wasn’t a lot of defensemen out there,” Jones says. “At the right time, that’s probably the best available player we could have grabbed,” he said of Nichols.

A question mark also remains as to who will wear the captain’s crest following the trade of Michael Dal Colle to the Kingston Frontenacs. However, fans may have to wait for that answer as Jones says the coaching staff isn’t going to rush it.

“We’re going to keep it vacant for now. We have some guys in mind, but we want someone to emerge and there’s no rush to make a rash decision here,” he said.

The Generals are back on the ice Jan. 14 for the second half of the home-and-home series with Windsor, this time on the Spitfires’ home turf. Following that, Oshawa starts another home-and-home, this time with the Sarnia Sting, opening on the road Jan. 15 before returning home to the General Motors Centre on Jan. 17, with puck drop set for 6:05 p.m.