Looking to avoid back to back weekend losses after a 7-3 setback against the London Knights at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario Friday night, the Saginaw Spirit (32-15-2-2) needed a spark against the Guelph Storm the following night, a team Saginaw had not beaten in three other attempts this season.
With the game tied at 2-goals apiece just over a minute into (3 on 3) overtime, that spark would come from Saginaw's two biggest stars when Ryan Suzuki battled a pair of Guelph defenders to gain possession of the puck in a scrum along the wall just inside of the Saginaw zone, then chipped a bank shot up the boards, hitting Cole Perfetti (30) in stride on a breakaway, who swiftly zipped past the remaining Storm defender, before eventually beating Guelph goal tender Nico Daws with a backhand shot at 1:19 of overtime for a 3-2 Spirit OT victory in front of 3,537 at the Dow Event Center Saturday night.
“There was a little bit of a turnover there and everyone was kind of stuck along the boards then I saw Zuke's (Suzuki) get it, so I just leaked,” Perfetti said. “I know he's a great playmaker and he could've just forced a pass down the ice, but with his skill, he just flicked it up in the air -kind of like a quarterback- and just led me right into it and I just skated right into it for a breakaway. The ice was a little rough, I was gonna stop and go forehand, but (the puck) kind of bobbled on me a little bit, so I just faked a shot then went backhand and beat him upstairs.”
After the loss to London on Friday night, Spirit head coach Chris Lazary knew how important it would be to avoid losing back to back games in the same weekend heading into the backstretch of the Ontario Hockey League season, stressing the importance of that message to the team prior to Saturday's game.
“We challenged our group (saying) this is a must win for us tonight,” Lazary said. “There's no way, if you want to win your division or try to challenge for your conference, that you can be losing back to back's and we had to find a way to split (the weekend)."
With Tristan Lennox and Blade Jenkins out of the lineup serving suspension's and a host of other Spirit players battling sickness, Lazary knew it would be an uphill battle, however, he also knows the character of his players and their will to battle through adversity.
“We had guys out on suspension, we have about six guys who, arguably, shouldn't be playing because they were sick,” Lazary added. “The amount of sickness that's going around the room is unbelievable. I mean, that's a gutsy win, when you go around the room during intermission and you have five guys that look like death and they're grinding. And, it's some of our best guys; like Coskey, Buzzy, Baber and Antro (Danil Antropov). You can go down the list of guys that are sick -And I know every team is battling but these guys are warriors- there's no way they were losing and to me, that's why we are a championship caliber team that's going to be something special.”
The Spirit had jumped out to an early lead when Danny Katic (10) scored on a feed from Jake Goldowski and Antropov to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead at 12:44 of the first period, but Guelph answered with a power play goal from Keegan Stevenson (18) just :57 seconds into the second period, before forward Jacob Roach (11) followed with a shorthanded goal to give the Storm a 2-1 lead at 3:11 of the second.
Saginaw managed to tie the game later in the middle frame, taking advantage of a Guelph penalty when Damien Giroux (32) scored a power play goal with assists from Coskey and Perfetti to tie the game at 2-goals apiece at 8:42 of the second period, which would eventually lead to overtime after a scoreless third.
Saginaw goal tender Marshall Frappier turned away 21 of the 23 shots he faced in net for the Spirit, while his counterpart, Daws, stopped 29 of the 32 shots he would face in between the pipes for Guelph.
The Spirit will have a few days off before heading north on I-75 for a road game against the Soo Greyhounds at GFL Memorial Gardens in Sault Ste Marie, ON at 7:07 pm Wednesday night.