Saginaw native, Devin Williams is the second-half of arguably the OHL’s best goal tending duo; along with his counterpart, Erie goalie Oscar Dansk (Columbus Blue Jackets second round selection, 31 overall in the 2012 NHL draft). Last night, Williams got the start against the Saginaw Spirit (25-22-4-1) and the 18 year old -who began tending goal out at Saginaw Bay Ice Arena- turned away all 28 shots he faced from his home town Saginaw Spirit team to earn a 3-0 shutout victory for his second-ranked (OHL) Erie Otters (40-10-2-0) in front of 2,705 at the Erie Insurance Arena in downtown Erie, Pa. Williams’ shutout was his fifth of the season; which moved him into second-place in the OHL for most shutouts this season, behind his team mate, Dansk and Sault Ste. Marie tender, Matt Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins third round selection, 83 overall in the 2012 NHL draft) who are tied for most shutouts in the OHL with six apiece respectively.
Devin Williams came out of nowhere as a late-round selection (fifth round, 95 overall) by Erie in the 2011 OHL priority selection draft. Now in his third OHL season, he has worked his way up from -strictly a backup role- to splitting time with Dansk throughout this year; which is by far Erie’s most successful season in franchise history, currently ranked second in the OHL, and third in the BMO CHL memorial cup standings. Thursday night was Williams twenty-fourth start of the season; while his counterpart, Dansk has started thirty-one games. In this, his “draft-eligible” season, Williams’ success has also earned some attention from NHL scouts; as he is currently ranked number-14 on the list of North American goalies (according to NHLcentralscouting.com) the go-to website for predicting the upcoming NHL draft order in June of this year.
Despite the 3-0 shutout, the Spirit did not play all that bad Thursday evening, and proved they can hang with one of the CHL’s toughest teams. The Spirit have played Erie three times now this season, and have beaten the Otters once, 2-1 in their first meeting; lost to the Otters in a shootout 6-5; and of course last night’s 3-0 loss, giving the Spirit 3-of a possible-6 points against the CHL’s third ranked team. The Spirit will try to best the season-series when they host Erie on March, 1 2014 at the Dow Event Center.
Saginaw played a very strong defensive game, but couldn’t put the puck in the net against a very likely first-round opponent in the upcoming 2014 OHL playoffs. The Spirit outshot Erie 14-8 in the opening period, and held the Otters to just eight shots in the second and third periods respectively. It was on the offensive end where Saginaw had their problems. The Spirit could not capitalize on two separate 5-on-3 power play opportunities (one in the first period, and another in the second period) as the Spirit were 0-for-7 on the power play Thursday night. Early in the contest, Erie rookie, Dylan Strome scored (what proved to be the game winning goal) as he capitalized on a Spirit turnover near the right faceoff circle in the Saginaw zone, and buried his eighth goal of the season past the glove-hand of Spirit goalie, Jake Paterson (Detroit Red Wings third round selection, 80 overall in the 2012 NHL draft) for a 1-0 Erie lead at 4:39 of the opening period.
There would be no more goals scored until halfway through the third period; when Erie forward, Dane Fox (Vancouver Canucks free-agent recently signed to a 3-year NHL entry level contract in late December of 2013) made history when he passed former Otter, Cory Pecker’s single-season record for goals-scored (53). Fox scored his record-breaking fifty-fourth goal of the season (on the power play) after Spirit forward, Jimmy Lodge (Winnipeg Jets third round selection, 84 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) was called for high sticking at 7:25 of the third period. Erie left wing, Michael Curtis would add an empty-net goal at 18:58 of the third period to round out the scoring Thursday night.
Spirit goalie, Jake Paterson stopped 21-of the-23 shots he faced in between the pipes for the Spirit Thursday night. Saginaw will not have much time to think about Thursday’s loss, as they travel to St. Catharines, Ontario tonight for another road game, this one against the Niagara Ice Dog’s at the Gatorade Garden Complex in St. Catharines, Ontario for a 7:00 pm faceoff. Spirit defenseman, Jesse Graham will make his return to the OHL arena where he got his start, and wore the coveted “C” on his sweater earlier this year for the Ice Dogs. The Spirit will return home for their third game in as many nights, when they host the Soo Greyhounds at the Dow Event Center for a 7:11 pm faceoff tomorrow night back home in Saginaw, Mi.