After making the preliminary 29-man roster,
only to become one of the final cuts for the U.S. national junior team prior the start of the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation U20 World Junior Championships last week, Saginaw Spirit forward Cole Coskey has returned to the OHL playing like a man on a mission, totaling 5-points (3-goals, 2-assists) in his first three games back, before leading the Spirit (22-11-2-2) to its second straight Coors Light I-75 Cup Series trophy with a huge 6-point (hat trick and 3-assists) performance in a 9-1 thrashing of the Flint Firebirds (5-32-2-0) at the Dort Federal Events Center in Flint, MI tonight.
“I'm just taking what I learned (with the U.S. national junior team) and trying to develop my game,” Coskey said. “They told me to play heavy and play mean and I think it helped me out.”
Saginaw head coach Chris Lazary has been quick to notice Coskey's recent elevated play on the ice as well, however, the new Spirit coach is even more impressed to see Coskey taking on a bigger leadership role inside the Spirit dressing room since his return from the U.S. national junior team camp.
“He's trying to become a leader within our group both on and off the ice, Lazary said of Coskey. “I think the best thing that's happened to him is that world junior invite, being around those players and seeing how some of those guys do things. I think he's brought some of that back, which is good for our team, because now they're seeing how you've got to handle yourself and what you need to do to be better.”
The Spirit have now won four straight (including 8 of the past 9 games) while collecting 17 of the last 18 possible points, boasting an 11-2-1-1 record since Lazary was named the new head coach back on Nov 18, giving Coskey confidence and feeling a definite difference in the atmosphere surrounding the team.
“I think the boys are having fun, they're coming to the rink and enjoying hockey, enjoying practices and I think we're just all jelling well right now, and that's what you want” Coskey added. “So, in our locker room, it's a good environment, the boys are having fun.”
The Spirit jumped out to an early lead within the first minute when Coskey (18) opened the scoring with his eighteenth goal of the season on a feed from Cole Perfetti for a 1-0 lead just :52 seconds into the game.
Saginaw would open up a big lead just past the midway point of the opening frame when Coskey (19) kicked off a 3-goal barrage for the Spirit, scoring a power play goal for his second of the night with assists coming from Perfetti and Bode Wilde for a 2-0 lead at 9:36 of the first, which was followed by Wilde, (10) scoring his tenth of the season from Coskey and Brady Gilmour to extend the Spirit lead to 3-0 at the 12:19 mark, before Gilmour (8) buried his eighth of the year from Coskey and Hayden Davis for a 4-0 Saginaw lead at 12:49 of the first period.
Flint made things interesting with a goal in the final seconds of the first when Ethan Keppen (11) scored his eleventh of the season from Jack Wismer and recently acquired Firebirds' forward Cody Morgan at 19:59 of the first, cutting the Saginaw lead to 4-1 heading into the first intermission.
After a scoreless second period, Coskey went on to set up Blade Jenkins (7) with a power play goal early in the final frame with Wilde adding an assist on the Jenkins goal for a 5-1 Spirit lead at the 5:00 mark, while Saginaw defenseman Reagan O'Grady (4) followed with his fourth of the year from D.J. Busdeker and Justin Murray for a 6-1 Spirit lead at 6:30 of the third period.
Saginaw defenseman Mason Millman (2) then decided he'd get into the action, scoring his second of the year from Danny Katic and Camaryn Baber for a 7-1 lead at 15:38 of the third, while Katic (5) followed with his fifth of the season from Jake Goldowski and Baber for an 8-1 lead at 17:49, before Coskey (20) completed the hat trick with his twentieth of the season from Millman and Busdeker to round out the scoring for a 9-1 Spirit lead at 18:24 of the third period.
Tonight's win was the fifth straight against Flint (of eight total meetings) this year, giving Saginaw its second straight Coors Light I-75 Divide Cup Series trophy and moving the Spirit solidly into third place (with 48-points) in the OHL's western conference standings, just 1-point behind the Soo Greyhounds (49-points) for second place.
The Spirit are off until the weekend when they welcome the Kitchener Rangers for a 7:05 pm face off at the Dow Event Center on Saturday night, before a visit from the Sudbury Wolves for a 5:30 pm face off at the Dow on Sunday afternoon.