WINDSOR — The Kingston Frontenacs defence corps may be looking forward to a day off on Monday.
Playing with just four defencemen for the second game in a row, the Frontenacs (16-11-2-2) completed an 0-3 weekend with a 7-6 loss against the Windsor Spitfires (20-11-0-1) at the WFCU Centre on Sunday.
The Frontenacs, who could not hold on to a 3-0 lead, were missing star defenceman Erik Gudbranson (Canadian junior camp), Mitch Gaulton (concussion suffered on Friday) and Jeff Braithwaite (pneumonia). Also, forward Ethan Werek was out, reportedly with a wrist injury.
“Missing some of our key guys on the power play and penalty kill hurt us,” said defenceman Patrick Harrison. “We take a couple penalties, have a couple bad bounces go against and the result was a loss.”
The Frontenacs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game, getting goals from forwards Charlie Sarault, Nathan Cull and Nathan Moon. This chased Windsor starting goalie Troy Passingham from the net after he gave up three goals on eight shots. Jack Campbell replaced Passingham.
The lead did not last long as the Frontenacs began a steady parade to the penalty box. The Spitfires got goals from defenceman Nick Ebert and an even strength goal from Stephen Johnston with 26 seconds left in the first period.
The Frontenacs had a tough start to the second period, letting the Spitfires get another power-play goal from defenceman Craig Duininck to tie up the game. The Frontenacs found their stride again halfway through the second period, getting a goal from Alex Gudbranson, whose slapshot beat Campbell’s blocker side.
Once again, the lead was not meant to be held. Windsor scored two goals in a span of six minutes to take a 5-4 lead on goals from Derek Lanoue and Zack MacQueen, who beat former Spitfires goalie Philipp Grubauer. From there, the Spitfires increased their lead when Alexander Khokhlachev stepped off the sideboards, beating Grubauer glove side to take a 6-4 lead.
Kingston responded 12 seconds after the Khokhlachev's goal when captain Taylor Doherty beat Campbell with a slapshot to make it 6-5 Spitfires. The Frontenacs then drew even when Ryan Spooner scored a highlight-reel goal, beating both a Windsor defenceman and Campbell to put a shot in the top shelf. Despite the even score, the game was being dominated by the Spitfires, who were outshooting the Frontenacs 33-15 after two periods.
The third period was a contrast to the first two, featuring little scoring and solid defence. The Frontenacs were once again shorthanded to start the period. While they killed off that penalty, they soon found themselves facing a 5-on3 and only two defencemen left on the bench after penalties to Michal Cajkovsky and Doherty. The Frontenacs were under siege as the Spitfires looked for the goal that would take the lead. Grubauer made two big saves during this penalty kill, allowing his team to remain tied and escape the penalty kill without letting up a goal.
Shortly after the penalty kill, the Spitfires swarmed around the Frontenacs zone for roughly two minutes until they finally found the net when Lanoue tipped a shot into the top corner of the net for what ultimately was the winner.
After the game, there was a common feel around the room, as the defenceman all looked exhausted.
For Grubauer, the game was the first time he had played in Windsor since he helped the Spitfires win their second Memorial Cup in a row last spring. Despite being disappointed in the fact that he couldn’t beat his old team, he enjoyed coming back to the city he used to call home. Although he was on the opposing team, familiar chants of “GRUUUUU!” still could be heard when Grubauer made some of his spectacular saves.
“I was pretty excited to come here,” said Grubauer, who meets up with the German world junior team next weekend. “At one point, I thought they were booing me, but then I realized it was ‘GRU.’ That was nice to hear.”
On Saturday, the Frontenacs lost 4-3 against the Whalers in Plymouth, Mich. Plymouth's Stefan Noesen broke a 3-3 tie with just 2:55 left in the third. Brett Morgan, Spooner and Lebar scored for the Fronts, who got 39 saves from Franky Palazzese.
After the rough weekend, the Fronts are third in the East Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference. In the division, the Fronts are three points behind the Oshawa Generals and nine back of the red-hot Ottawa 67's, who are on an eight-game points streak.
The Frontenacs have two more games before the Christmas break — Friday against the Belleville Bulls at the K-Rock Centre and Sunday in Mississauga against the league-leading Majors.