Action on the Ice • 2019-20 Saginaw Spirit Season Preview

Expectations are High for the Ontario Hockey League’s 2019 Western Division Champions

Posted In: Sports, Saginaw Spirit,   From Issue 885   By: Jason Marcoux

19th September, 2019     0

After a devastating game #7 loss to the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League's western conference finals last year, the 2019 Western Division Champion Saginaw Spirit are a team on a mission.

Looking to improve upon the most successful run in franchise history and backed with a solid core group of returning players, not to mention some impressive off-season additions, the 2019-20 team is ready to soar.

Spirit captain Damien Giroux, a 2018 draft pick of the Minnesota Wild, knows how close this group came a year ago and is ready to put in the work necessary toward finishing what he and his teammates started last season.

“Our expectations are very high, especially after the way the season finished out last year,” Giroux said. “I think the guys are still a little bitter from that loss in game #7, so our expectations are real high. We're just going to have to approach every day wanting to get better and just take it one day at a time and hopefully we'll be able to get back to where we were last year.”

Spirit GM Dave Drinkill suspected Saginaw native Mitchell Smith had the potential to become a game-changer on the backend when the Spirit decided to draft the offensive defenseman in the fifth round of the 2019 OHL priority selection draft this past April, but his suspicions were confirmed after hearing many of the current Saginaw players praise the play of the Heritage HS junior at training camp this summer.

“(Asst. GM) Brian Prout and I have watched him play a lot at the u-16 level, but it's a big step up when you get on the ice with OHL players,” Drinkill said of Spirit rookie Mitchell Smith. “I thought he fit in really well, his skating stands out right away and the players are all talking about how he makes plays on the backend and how he can get up in the rush with his mobility. They were all really impressed with him and that's kind of the tell-tale, when players start talking about other players and how good they are - then you really know you have something. But we knew we already had that in Mitchell - and he didn't show any nerves, he looks ready to go.”

With a depleted defensive group, Drinkill got to work in the off-season, signing CHL Import pick Ilya Solovyov, a 6-foot-3 Belaursan defenseman, while also acquiring defenseman D.J. King in a trade with the Hamilton Bulldogs, which will add some much needed size and experience to the Saginaw backend.

Spirit veteran forward Blade Jenkins has bulked up, adding strength and speed to his already high skill-set and he's looking to push this team back up the mountain.

“I think we're pretty hungry,” Jenkins said. “I think the organization, the ownership, management, coaches, and the players are all ready to get back into it and start winning some more games. We went pretty far last year, but the overall goal is to win the whole thing and for me, as a goal with this team, is to put us in the best position to win. As the season goes on it gets long, but we just have to kinda pick everyone up and lead from there.”

The Spirit will have to wait until the Arizona Coyotes decide where they would like Spirit goal tender Ivan Prosvetov to play this season, but odds are the Russian tender will spend at least one more season in Saginaw. If Prosvetov doesn't end up here, the Spirit will rely on 2018 OHL priority selection draft goal tender Tristan Lennox, who had a great off-season playing for team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky tournament in the Czech Republic.

Lennox was joined at the Hlinka Gretzky tournament with Saginaw's rookie of the year from last season Cole Perfetti, who led all scorers at the tournament. Perfetti, who was recently ranked No. 3 overall for the 2020 NHL draft by TSN's Craig Button, is ready to build on the most successful rookie season in Spirit history.

Returning to the team this year are three Spirit players who were selected in the 2019 NHL draft; defenseman Mason Millman was taken by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fourth round, and Soo native Nicholas Porco was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round, before Cole Coskey heard his name called when the New York Islanders selected him in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL draft.

All three will be huge contributors for the Spirit this year.

The Spirit will kick off the 2019-20 OHL season on the road with a visit to take on the Kitchener Rangers for a 7:30 pm face off at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium in Kitchener, ON next Friday, before returning for the home opener the following night where they will host the Flint Firebirds at 7:05 pm at the Dow Event Center on Saturday, September 21st.






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