Back in the late eighties, the Chicago Blackhawks had a constant pipeline of players flowing from Saginaw directly to the NHL. During the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons, the Saginaw Hawks of the IHL were the primary affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Saginaw Generals were the secondary affiliate of the Blackhawks throughout the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons. Needless to say, Saginaw hockey fans watched many local players make their way up to “the big show” in Chicago. Guys like: Eddie Belfour, Dave “Charlie” Manson, Warren Rychel, Darren Pang, Mike Stapleton, Brian Noonan, and Mike Hudson are a few of the players to go from Saginaw to the Chicago Blackhawks. Spirit head coach, Greg Gilbert never played for the Saginaw Hawks or Saginaw Generals; but, he did have a fifeeen year NHL career; which included him playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, starting with the team during the 1988-89 season and staying with the club through the 1992-93 season, before moving on to the New York Rangers for the 1993-94 season where he won a Stanley Cup. Lately, the tap on that pipeline seems to be flowing again.
Former Saginaw Spirit captain, Brandon Saad was drafted by the Blackhawks in the second round (43 overall) in the 2011 NHL draft, and currently plays left wing on Chicago’s top line; alongside Jonathan Toews and Michael Frolik. Last year, Brandon Saad’s “heir-apparent” in Saginaw -2013 Spirit captain- Garret Ross was drafted by Chicago in the fifth round (139 overall) in the 2012 NHL draft. On Tuesday April, 9 2013 at 5:11 p.m. (Central Standard Time) the Blackhawks signed Ross to a three-year NHL entry-level contract. The Blackhawks immediately sent Ross to join their AHL primary affiliate –the Rockford IceHogs- for the remainder of the 2013 season.
Ross is the kind of player fans, coaches, and fellow players admire. Ross was not drafted by an OHL team, and the Spirit signed the Dearborn Heights native to a free agent contract four years ago. Ross went on to play his entire career in Saginaw, finishing eighth on the club’s all-time list of scoring leaders with 170 points (82 goals, 88 assists). Ross completed his career in Saginaw with a stellar 2012-13 campaign. He became just the third player in Saginaw Spirit history to record 90 points in a single-season and he ranked among the top OHL producers. Ross finished the 2012-13 season seventh in scoring (90 points), fourth place for goals (44), fourteenth in the plus/minus category (plus 31), fourteenth in penalty minutes (114), and fourth place in short-handed goals (4). Last year, Ross won the 2011-12 award as the most underrated player in the OHL; which pretty much sums up his character, and is likely the reason Chicago decided to take a chance on him in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL draft.
I have no doubt that Garret Ross will join Brandon Saad on the Blackhawks roster one day. Perhaps they will even end up on the same NHL line one day; much like their playing days here in Saginaw...
Garret Ross finished as the runner-up for the OHL's Leo Lalonde award. The Leo Lalonde award is given annually to the OHL's top overaged player, voted on by the OHL General Managers (each GM cannot vote for a player from their own team). Players received five points for a first-place vote, three points for a second-place vote, and one point for a third-place vote. Ross was edged out by Sarnia's Charles Sarault, who received 78-out of a possible-95 points. Ross finished second with 48 points; while Sault Ste. Marie defenseman, Colin Miller finished in third with 18 points.