2/20/2011 Spirit vs. the Plymouth Whalers

Posted In: Sports, Local Sports, Saginaw Spirit,   By: Jason Marcoux

21st February, 2011     0

The Saginaw Spirit won their 5th straight game Sunday afternoon in dramatic fashion.  For the 2nd time in 8 days the Spirit completed 65 minutes of hockey with the score tied.  Of course this meant that a shootout would decide the outcome of Sunday afternoon’s game. 

Saginaw’s in-state rival, the Plymouth Whalers, made the hour and a half trip north to The Dow Events Center on Sunday morning in fairly mild weather.  The Trip home wasn’t so mild, and I don’t think that the weather was the only contributing factor.  The Spirit played a disciplined game to earn the tough inter-division win.  The last two wins were very important for the Spirit.  Of course with their win on Saturday night, the Spirit earned a playoff spot, but the Spirit had been playing the last two games without their superstar, Brandon Saad.  According to the Spirit staff, Saad was kept out of the last two games with an injury to his lower extremities.  If the Spirit plan to make any kind of a run for the coveted Memorial Cup, they are going to need a healthy Brandon Saad.  Many of the lesser known Spirit players have been stepping up in his absence.  Garret Ross, Justin Kea, and Sloan Stewart have all made their presence felt over the last few games.  Coach Todd Watson has this Spirit machine clicking on all cylinders.
On Saturday night the Spirit played a penalty filled game, in which their players spent over 20 minutes in the dreaded “Sin-Bin.”  That’s the equivalent of playing an entire period shorthanded.  I don’t know exactly what it was that Coach Watson could have told his team in regards to the high number of penalties from the previous night. Something obviously hit home for the Saginaw club, because the Spirit Penalty Box attendant was a very lonely guy on Sunday afternoon, as Saginaw played the whole game penalty-free.
The first 14 minutes of the opening period was a Goal Tending Clinic, as both Saginaw Goalie Mavric Parks and Plymouth Goalie Matt Mahalak made some incredible saves that would be worthy of any highlight reel.  Mavric only faced 8 shots in that 1st period, but they were quality shots.  At one point, Plymouth caught the Spirit Defencemen backing in too deep.  Plymouth had a 3 on 2 break, as one of the Whaler attackers fired a Rocket-like shot low, the nimble Parks dropped to the butterfly position and allowed a very minimal rebound in front of the Spirit net.  Leaving a short rebound was crucial for Parks in this sequence.  The rebound, (or lack there of) allowed the Spirit Defensemen to do their job and tie up 2 of the attacking Whalers for that split second, while giving the Spirit wingers time to back check and safely clear the puck out of the zone.  If Parks let the rebound kick out into the slot, the third Whaler attacker, who happened to be in the slot waiting for just THAT rebound, could have picked any spot with an opening and scored.  Parks has a unique quality to be able to absorb the hard shots of OHL snipers and minimize rebound goals.  The Spirit finally scored on a power play goal at 14:10 of the 1st period.  Josh Shalla bagged his 41st goal of the season, giving the Spirit an early 1-0 lead.  Jordan Szwarz and Ivan Telegin got the assists on Shalla’s goal.  The 1st period ended with the Saginaw Spirit leading the Plymouth Whalers 1-0.
The 2nd period was a lot like the first 14 minutes of the game, as both Goalies continued to carry their respective teams.  Parks and Mahalak looked stellar, making spectacular saves throughout the 2nd.  The Saginaw Boys had two power play opportunities in the 2nd period.  At the 4:19 mark, Plymouth was charged with a bench minor for having too many men on the ice.  Later in the 2nd, Plymouth LW, Jamie Devane went to the box for a 2 minute roughing minor.  Saginaw would not take advantage of either Power Play opportunity.  With just over one minute remaining in the 2nd period, Plymouth’s Mitchell Heard put the puck past the veteran Saginaw net minder, Mavric Parks.  By the end of two periods of play, it was all tied up at one apiece.
Just under two minutes into the 3rd period, Plymouth’s Mitchell Heard would give his team a 2-1 lead when he scored on a transition goal.  From my seat, I can hear a lot of what is said on the Spirit bench.  In this writer’s humble opinion, there are three keys to having a winning hockey team.  1) You must have a good Goaltender, which of course the Spirit have.  2) Your Defenseman must be efficient at standing guys up at the blue line.  3) This is probably the most important and is crucial if #2 is going to be effective, you must have wingers that are willing to back check effectively when the puck is in transition.  Meaning, your forwards should play with the same intensity and speed at BOTH ends of the ice, whether fore checking on offence, or back checking on defense.  With my seats in ear shot of the Spirit bench, I could hear the Saginaw assistant coaches throughout the game yelling, “Anthony, get OUT!”  Or I would hear, “Anthony get BACK!”  They were referring to Spirit forward, Anthony Camara.  This is what happened on this particular Plymouth goal.  The Spirit forwards were attacking the Plymouth net when a Whaler stole the puck and instantly the action was heading back toward the Saginaw end in an odd man rush.  Camara spent way too much time deep in his attacking zone, before deciding to head back and play some defense.  While he was skating back on defence, at one point around center ice, he decided to coast, thinking one of his other two forwards would steal the puck and pass it to him for a break away.  As soon as Camara started to coast, I heard all 3 Saginaw assistants, in unison, scream “SKATE!”  By the time Anthony turned on the jets it was too late, and Mitchell Heard had already scored.  I don’t want to be known as someone who picks on Anthony Camara.  Anthony is a tremendous talent and he is one of the top players in the OHL.  I am simply using this incident in particular because I happened to catch it during the game.  If the Spirit want any kind of a chance to go deep into the playoffs, every player on the team will have to go 100% at both ends of the ice on every shift.

As stated earlier, the two rivals finished 3 periods and 5 minutes of overtime with the score tied at two.  In a shootout situation, a great Goalie will win the shootout for your team most of the time, as Mavric Parks proved on February, 12th when he stopped all four of the shooters that he faced against Kitchener for the win.  He was stellar again on Sunday afternoon.  Saginaw sent the 1st shooter out, Vincent Trochek, and he went 5-hole on Mahalak for an early Spirit advantage.  Plano, Texas native, Stefan Noesen made a nice dangle to his backhand on Parks and tied the shootout for the Whalers.  The next four shooters, (2 for each team) were stoned by the two Goal Tenders.  Next up for Saginaw was Defenseman, Ryan O’Connor.  O’Connor made a nice move to his fore hand and took a hard snap shot that buried in the back of the net, glove side low.  It was all up to the “Mav-Man.”  As it turned out, he was facing the Whalers Mitchell Heard, who already had 2 goals on the afternoon.  Heard would not get his “Hat Trick” as Mavric was more like a “Mav-Brick Wall,” stoning the Whaler shooter and securing Saginaw’s fifth straight win.  Saginaw’s Ivan Telegin was voted the #3 star of the game with a goal and an assist. 

The Plymouth net minder, Mahalak was voted the #2 star as he stopped 28 of 31 shots.  Of course the #1 star for the Spirit this blustery Sunday afternoon was none other than the “Mav-Brick-Wall” himself, Mavric Parks as he only allowed 2 goals on 39 shots, giving him 37 saves on the afternoon.
The Spirit remain in1st place in the west division with 78 points.  They only have 11 games left, 6 of which are home games.  The Spirit could really boost their confidence if they could finish the regular season on a strong note.  With 11 games left, the Spirit could get a possible 22 more points that would give the Franchise 100 points for the season.  The best regular season finish for the Spirit was the 2006-07 season, where they finished with 91 points.  The regular season is one thing, I’m sure that the Saginaw Spirit Organization is more concerned about making it to the Memorial Cup.  If that happens, the Hockey fans in Saginaw are in for a treat.  The Spirit hit the ice next on Thursday February, 24th as they travel to London, Ontario to take on the London Knights.  They will return to “The Dow” on Saturday to face the Ottawa 67’s.  The game will be their 3rd in a row after stopping in Kitchener on Friday night.  Saturday, the puck will drop as usual at 7:11 p.m. We will see you at “The Dow.”


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