Saginaw Spirit 2022-23 Season Preview

History Carries On for Saginaw OHL Hockey with Fresh Faces, Strong Sticks & Optimistic Agility

Posted In: Sports, Saginaw Spirit,   From Issue 935   By: Richard Curry

15th September, 2022     0

When REVIEW publisher & editor Bob Martin asked if I could do the opening story for the new Saginaw Spirit season this year, I couldn’t say no. Upon arriving at Saginaw Bay Ice Arena for the first season scrimmage, in the parking lot I saw so many Ontario plates everywhere I thought I was in Windsor. Upon stepping through the doors for the first time in 15 years, I could not help but reflect upon the three decades spent there either coaching, playing, or being a fan of Saginaw hockey.

I asked if Fred Bowden still drove the Zamboni and was told he had passed at 79 years old. I asked if his son Bobby played there anymore and was told he also had passed. What about Fred’s brother Bob, who also drove the Zamboni?  “No he is in a Nursing Home”. “OK” - no more questions about the past!

After all these years, the Arena still had that special smell about it. I found out locker room #4 was now reserved for girls. Years back as the head coach for Douglas MacArthur High School, I put a girl on my team. Her name was Chris. That year D.M. was not very good, but she got more press then the entire team and her career ended after the Port Huron captain slammed her through the boards.

As the current crop of players took to the ice, I watched the scrimmage as 38 kids played their hearts out to make the Saginaw Spirit team. The score ended up 9-4.  My first impression: These are kids that are  talented, fast, creative, and aggressive.

I met the V.P. of Communications Joey Battaino and General Manager Dave Drinkill, who’s taken the Spirit to 4 post seasons. Both were exceptional gentlemen. I told Dave,  “This is the hard part, cutting down the roster” He said: “It is, but the good part is telling a kid he’s made the team.”

After the game, I had an opportunity to talk with Michael Misa.  This is one special young man. The league awarded him exceptional status, being only 15. John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day, Shane Wright, and Connor McDavid had this in the past. That’s remarkable company to be part of.  This kid scored 43 points in GTHL regular season games. He broke the OHL Cup scoring title set by Connor McDavid with 20 points in 7 games. He had 5 points and a Hat Trick in the Finals to win the Most Valuable Player honor.  Malcom Spence, Rated # 2 in the draft said of Misa: “He’s so deceptive and he knows how to move quickly at full speed and make plays happen.  He is the best.”

I found it unreal that Michael has had only one coach to work with on his way to the top and asked Michael what he will need to work on the most. He replied “My physicality for sure.” This is one polite kid with a bright future laid out for him. He already has an agent and a home to reside in Saginaw. The Spirit last year were 24-43-1. You will see that improve this year.

The Spirit have retired one number & that is Vincent Trocheck. He has played in 555 N.H.L. games, scored 150 goals, 228 assists, & 378 points. This year he will be playing for the N.Y.Rangers.                

Detroit is Hockey Town U.S.A. and they have 11 Stanley Cups because of Jack Adams, Mike Ilitch, & Scotty Bowman. Saginaw is Michigan’s Hockey Town North because of Wren Blair, Don Perry, & Dick Garber.

I have coached & played this game for 30 plus years. I was a huge fan of the Saginaw Gears. Saginaw embraced the Gears & they loved playing in this town. The Gears won two Turner Cups (1977 & 1981). Those team’s featured 3 great goalies: Bob Froese, Mario Lessard, & Mike Palmatter (all in the N.H.L.).

Dennis Desrosiers played here for 450 games, scoring 522 points & 1479 P.M. In 75 Playoff games: 46 Goals-90 Points-276 P.M. Wren Blair made him the highest paid Gear to keep him in town.

Dennis became the Saginaw Spirits’ first head coach in 2002-03. As head coach he told his players about Rule #1 (No one dates my daughters!) Dennis later went into broadcasting their games. I was on the Saginaw County Sports H.O.F. board for 10 years & pushed to get The Gears, Wren Blair, & Dennis Desrosiers elected. Marcel Comeau (11 year Gear, two year Gears coach, League M.V.P. in 1981 (scored 126 Pts), coached for 16 years, great soft ball player, & head scout for the Winnipeg Jets). Dave Westner (5 year Gear, N.C.A.A. champion at Cornell, & Bay Side Ice Rink Manager for 36 plus years) should go in next.   

The Saginaw Spirit brings young talented hockey players (16-20 years old) into their program every year with hopes of them making a career in professional hockey. Their youthful enthusiasm is contagious, which along with their incredible skills, bring about great hockey.  Since 2003 the N.H.L. has drafted 60 Saginaw Spirit players (30-plus have gotten playing time).

The Spirit had three go into the 2022 N.H.L. draft: Pavel Mintyukov (6’2” 194 pound Russian Defenseman) - 10th overall. Last year in Saginaw he put up 17 goals & 62 points as a defenseman. He was signed by the Anaheim Ducks. I focused on this kid in the tryout. Pavel is from Russia (played for the Dynamo Moskva).  This kid is aggressive. He roves between offense & defense like Bobby Orr. He is a great stick handler with speed.   

Matyas Sapovaliv (68 games-had 52 points) went 48th to the Vegas Knights. Matyas is 6’3” 183-pound center from Czech Republic. He is a technically skilled play maker.  Petre Hauser went in the 5th round at # 141. This kid who is 6’4” & 207 pounds went to New Jersey. 

Tri City-Families have provided homes for these kids. They are given $ 500.00 a month to help cover their costs. The Spirit goalie Andrew Oke (from Shelby, Township) (6’2”-201 Pounds) was one of the goalies for team U.S.A. in the Junior 2022 International Championships in Edmonton, Alberta from August 9 to August 20.  

Oke is the third Spirit to represent Team U.S.A. Canada won (for the 19th time). Team U.S.A. played in the Group B bracket going 5-0-1 & finished 5th. Last year for the Spirit Oke played in 36 games and had a 4.63 G.A. & a .848 save percentage.  He also attended the Detroit Red Wings development camp in the summer of 2022.

There is a backup goalie on the Spirit team named Brett Fullerton (6’3 190 pounds). Brett with the Burlington Eagles played 19 games with a goals against of 2.65. In 11 games with the Spirit last year he had a G.A.A. of 5.31.

Josh Bloom had a great year last season: 67 games: 30 goals & 61 points.     

I asked Dave Westner the major differences between the Gears & Spirit hockey worlds. Dave: “Our coach stressed rugged hockey, stand up for yourself, and team play.  With the rule changes, today’s hockey has evolved more into skills, speed, and finesse.”  

The Spirit signed an assistant coach for this year, Justin Pereira (age 31), and he comes from the Oakville Blades Jr. team in the O.J.H.L.  As a player for 5 years (2007-2012) he recorded 107 points in 169 games.  

Saginaw’s Brendan Kischnick played two years with the Erie Otters in the O.H.L. He had a goal, 6 points, & 85 penalty minutes, and 10 concussions (that ended his career) as the team’s enforcer. Playing aggressive hockey has a price to pay. I was told by the people with the Spirit,  “No one player played harder against us than Brendan.”

The Spirit open the season on October 1st, against the Guelph Storm at 7:05 PM at the Dow Event Center, so let the fun begin!

Looking Back in Hockey History

Looking back at the Saginaw Gears we have a lot of bruisers.  Kurt Walker: Playing Don Perry hockey included a lot of time in the penalty box. Kurt in 1974-75 scored one goal in 67 games & had 168 minutes in the box. At a Gears home game I watched him knock a player out cold with one punch. Kurt beat a few of his own Toronto Maple Leaf teammates on his way into a N.H.L lineup & made the Leafs roster in 1975.

As a Leaf for 3 years he scored 4 goals & 152 P.M. After hockey he started the “Dignity after Hockey” Foundation’  to assist players that fell on hard times.  He passed at age 64. Gear Mark Toffolo in 79 games had 2 Goals & 559 P.M. Mel Hewitt beat his way to 514 P.M. in 72 games. Gord Malinoski scored 3 goals in 57 games & had 280 P.M. Reg Fleming played in 749 N.H.L. games, totaling 240 points & 1470 P.M. In 1975 he quit his beer truck driving job to play in Saginaw for 9 games.

The Saginaw Gears were inducted into the Saginaw County Sports H.O.F. in 2014. On that team was Gary Sittler who had 17 points to help the Gears win the Turner Cup. Gary passed away at age 62, three months after the team induction. The Saginaw Gears had skills & the fighting kept the fans entertained. Two great “Turner Cup” Gear teams: 1976-77: 40-27-11 & 1980-81: 45-29-8.

Ken “Gunner” Garrett was the Gears Trainer & Equipment Manager for 10 years. The Professional hockey world has named an award in his honor: “The “Gunner Garrett  Best Trainer” award. This man was a character. More than once he would come out of his locker room before his Men’s Class  A League game in the Civic Center dressed only in his long johns to harass my Fullerton Tool team while we were playing. We just laughed & played on.

When “Gunner” was with the New Haven Blades for 5 years as the trainer, he would also suit up & play goal when the starter got hurt. This happened 22 times & he played pretty well, as he once recorded back-to-back shutouts.

It was common in old time hockey to carry only one goalie. The Red Wings in the day had trainer “Lefty” Wilson come in when Terry Sawchuk got hurt. “Gunner” started out with the Johnstown Jets in 1961 and his career lasted until 2009 with the Amarillo Gorillas. Garrett in the late 1980’s took care of the Toronto Maple Leaf owner: Harold Ballard when he was in poor health (he passed in 1990 at 86 years old).  

“Gunner” now resides in Austin, Texas. I called “Gunner. He is 82 years old and told me he can’t remember a lot since he blew out his aorta & lost a lot of his memory. But he did remember his Saginaw Gears as a great team. He said Dave Westner & Dennis Desrosiers were awesome players. He respected his coach Don Perry, and told me he was the best. He said “I put in 60 years and loved every minute of it.”  

The Saginaw Gear coach Don Perry was one tough coach. He coached here from 1972-1981 before going on to the L.A. Kings.  Once during a bench clearing brawl as a coach, he stepped off the bench, grabbed the other team’s goalie & knocked him out. As a player he skated from 1948 to 1969 where he ran up 2059 minutes in penalties. As a coach in his practice one day, a player left the ice. He went to the locker room for 10 minutes. Don took exception to his departure and when he returned Don hit him square in the face & broke his nose.

Even the Saginaw fans got caught up in the action. One night when the Flint Generals played here, three fans were berating the Generals near the Zamboni door. Two Flint players couldn’t take it anymore - they climbed up into the stands and a Flint player punched a woman in the face. The Gears went to the rescue, but the police put a stop to it and the altercation ended.

Playing hockey in Toledo against the ‘Gold Diggers’ was a treat. It was like going to the Roman Coliseum to watch the Christians being fed to the Lions. The Gears had to walk through the concession area to get to the ice with the loony toon fans harassing them along the way. I went there & they dumped a full beer on my head.

Larry’s Lounge was the place to be after hockey games in Saginaw for years (1957-2002). Larry Coulouris and I were arch rivals when Fullerton played Larry’s in the City  A League. We later became friends. A few years back, Larry (age 88) signed up to play in an ‘Over 70 Hockey Tournament’ in Vegas. When he got there with his 90-year old goalie friend from Grand Rapids they found out it was actually a tournament for  30-year-olds, but played anyway!

The Castle Museum of Saginaw County History is opening an exhibition on October 1st that will be titled Game On: The History of Hockey in Saginaw County that will be on display through December, so be sure not to miss it.    

You can check out all the memorable moments of glory from Saginaw Hockey’s storied past while you attend all the exciting games at the Dow Event Center as the 2022-23 Saginaw Spirit cut their own legendary future on the ice as it unfolds!   



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