Mitchell Stephens' new team, the London Knights (27-7-2-3) delivered a devastating 5-1 loss to the Saginaw Spirit (15-18-5-2) in front of 9,036 fans at Budweiser Gardens in London, ON tonight.
“It's an emotional night,” Stephens' told London Free Press writer Ryan Pyette following the game. “It's tough to leave an organization you've been with for four years, but sometimes, that's just the way hockey goes. Business is business and you have to be prepared. I'm grateful for this opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it. I'm excited to get going with the Knights.”
The Spirit managed to keep pace with the Canadian Hockey Leagues No. 2 ranked team throughout the first two periods. However, following a scoreless first period, the Knights' would draw first blood when J.J. Piccinich (16) beat Spirit goal tender Brendan Bonello for his sixteenth goal of the season at 7:27 of the first period.
After successfully killing two first-period penalties, the Spirit PK finally cracked after defenseman Marcus Crawford was called for a 2 minute hooking penalty at 15:09 of the second period.
It didn't take the Knight's long to convert when first year European import draft pick (from Oulunsalo, Finland) forward Janne Kuokkanen (a second round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, 43, overall in the 2016 NHL draft) scored his sixteenth goal of the season, a power play goal at 15:25 of the period for a 2-0 London lead.
The Spirit would not go quietly into the night, battling back early in the third period on Brady Gilmour's (13) lucky thirteenth goal of the season, on this Friday the 13th as he managed to beat Chesterfield, MI native Tyler Parsons, who was playing in his first game since leading Team USA to a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF U20 WJC in Montreal. Gilmour's goal cut the London lead to 2-1 at the 2:14 mark of the third period.
London's Dante Salituro (1) then recorded his first career OHL goal at 3:29 of the third period to give his team a 3-1 lead. Kuokkanen (17) his second of the night midway through the third and Alex Formenton (12) scored his twelfth of the season at the 16:24 mark to round out the scoring.
Parsons stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced in net for the Knights while Spirit backup, Bonello turned away 27 of the 32 shots as he played in place of Saginaw starter Evan Cormier.
The two teams will finish up a home-and-home series tomorrow night when London travels to the Dow Event Center for a 7:05 pm face off in what will be Stephens' first game back since being traded to the Knights earlier in the week.
It is sure to be an emotional homecoming for Stephens, who billeted with Dow Event Center General Manager Matt Blasy and his family for most of his time in Saginaw. Stephens talked about his billet family in the London Free Press article.
“I had unbelievable billets in Saginaw,” Stephens told Pyette. “They're the people I called home for over three years and a lot of the guys over there have been my best friends for that time. I'm going to miss them but I'm sure it's going to get better in London here.”
Stephens will wear the No. 67 sweater for the Knights' in his Dow Event Center debut tomorrow night, the same number he wore in the Tampa Bay Lightning camp and when he played for the Syracuse Crunch during last years AHL playoffs.
The Spirit will round out the week with a 2:05 pm visit to the WFCU Centre in Windsor, ON to take on the Spitfires Sunday afternoon.