The puck is set to drop for the thirteenth season of Saginaw Spirit Hockey in downtown Saginaw Wednesday September 24 at 7:11 pm at the Dow Event Center. The Spirit will host the Erie (Pa) Otters for the opening game of the 2014-15 season. Erie and Saginaw are just two of three American teams (Plymouth Whalers) in the twenty-team Ontario Hockey League.
Fourth year head coach, Greg Gilbert is excited about the 2014 group of young and talented players. Since taking over the team in December of 2011, Gilbert has been coaching a competitive, blue collar brand of hockey; which seems to be getting through to this group, the first line-up of players who have played completely under Gilbert (with the exception of Jake Ringuette).
“They're looking good, they're working hard,” said Gilbert. “It's a process you know, and as long as that competition level and that work ethic is still there and their minds are open to learn and they are trying to get better, then they're going to become good hockey players - that's all there is to it.”
Gilbert added a pair of new coaches to his staff, giving the Spirit one of the most experienced stables of coaches in the OHL. Longtime Spirit assistant coach, John Kisil will return to work with the Forwards, but Gilbert added former teammate - 18 year NHL defenseman, Jay Wells to coach the Defense, and 14-year NHL goalie, Phil Myre to coach the Goal Tenders. Combined with Gilbert's 15-year NHL career, the Spirit coaches now have 47 years NHL playing experience behind the bench to go along with and accompany their 5 Stanley CupChampionships.
“I played with Jay (Wells) and he has a lot of experience,” Gilbert said of Wells. “He's been an assistant coach in the American Hockey League, he obviously played 18 years in the NHL, he was a first-round draft pick, and he was just one of those defensemen that was there every night and knew exactly what he had to do and how he had to play. He played a very simple game, but a hard game and he's helped develop a lot of players, a bunch that are in the national hockey league right now and obviously some that are on their way. He has some great experience and I think he's going to do a great job with our young guys.”
Although Gilbert never played with Phil Myre, the two were coaches in the same system. Gilbert was the head coach of the Worcester (Mass.) Ice Cats of the AHL; while Myre was a goal tender coach for the Ottawa Senators. The Senators and the Ice Cats had a split-affiliation, and Myre would often help out with Gilbert's goaltenders.
“I worked with Phil when he was with Ottawa (Ont.) back when I first started coaching, Gilbert said of his new goalie coach. “When I was in Worcester (Ma.) we had a split-affiliation with Ottawa, so he would come down and work with the Ottawa goalie, and our goalie also. So (like Jay Wells) we have a bit of a history too, and we've always talked over the years and I know he's going to do a great job for us.”
Stephens Ready for Breakout Sophomore Year
Second year forward, Mitchell Stephens has had arguably the most productive off-season of all returning Spirit players. After an invite to the Canadian under 18-development camp in June, Stephens secured a spot on the Canadian Under 18 National team roster. Stephens and his fellow countrymen traveled to Europe to try and win their Countries seventh consecutive Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. The summer tournament is a gathering of the best hockey players under the age of 18 in the world, played at various spots throughout theCzech Republic and Slovakia. Stephens was one of team Canada's top producers this year, with 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points, they beat Team USA 11-5 in the semi-final then the Czech Republic 6-2 in the final to win their seventh straight gold medal.
“Going over to Europe with the guys from team Canada was a great experience, and one I sure won't forget,” said Stephens. “I have a lot more confidence, I know I can play certain roles now and this summer really helped. It gave me the confidence to where I know I can perform really well this year. I was fortunate to play with some great players over in Europe. It's sort of a whirlwind experience, you know. You're playing for your country, and to win Gold, it was crazy, something that is going to stay in your mind forever. The seven year streak was something we all kind of had in the back of our minds, but we realized we were one of the best teams coming in, and if we played the way we were capable of playing, we were going to be unstoppable.”
Sadowy Drafted in Third Round by San Jose Sharks
Dylan Sadowy had a breakout year last season for the Spirit; which caught the eye of many NHL scouts. Sadowy finished the 2013-14 OHL season predicted to be as high as an early second round pick. Sadowy made the trip to Philadelphia in June for the 2014 NHL draft. He had to wait until the third round, but it was well worth the wait, as the San Jose Sharks selected Sadowy 81 overall. The 18-year-old Brampton, Ontario native had a busy summer filled with combines, prospect development camps, summer workouts, and he even managed to spend a little time at the family cottage.
“It was a busy summer for me, I was all over the place,” said Sadowy. “It started with the (NHL) combine, then I went to Philadelphia for the (NHL) draft. I was happy being drafted by the Sharks, two weeks after the draft I was in San Jose for (prospect) development camp, so it was just a long, busy summer for me but it was well worth it and I'm ready to get the season rolling again. I go back to San Jose next Wednesday September, 10 to attend rookie camp.”
Sadowy spent the majority of his summer skating against other San Jose prospects; some who were six years older than he. Playing against the older, stronger, more physical players can only make Sadowy's skills better. Look for great things from Saginaw's leading goal scorer from a year ago, as he continues to bulk up heading into San Jose's upcoming training camp.
“The compete-level, work ethic, and physical play are a big difference at that level,” noted Sadowy. “The fact that you're going against full grown men is a major difference. At development camp, going into the corners was a challenge, guys are a lot stronger, bigger, and faster so, there was a lot that I wasn't used to because playing in 'the O' (OHL) you're only playing against guys two-or-three years older than you, instead of guys who are 24-to-25 years old, and now -with training camp coming up I'll be going against guys with an average age of around 28. I've been in the gym every morning, and on the ice every afternoon working long and hard this summer; while at the same time taking weekends off to go to our cottage to make sure I still enjoyed the summer a little bit, but overall it's been a long grind this summer and I'm hoping to reach my goal and make it to that next level.”
The Spirit return some of their top producers from last season. Forward, Jimmy Lodge (third round selection of the Winnipeg Jets, 84 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) returns for his fourth season with the Spirit. Lodge looks to return to form this year after a nagging upper body injury hampered his production last year. Lodge still managed 19 goals, 27 assists, and 46 points last year. Look for a big jump in production from the Downingtown, Pa native this year.
Blake Clarke is another Spirit forward who was hampered with injuries last season. After a strong rookie year in 2012-13 with the Brampton Battalion where Clarke score 19 goals, 32 assists, and 51 points, the Chesterfield, Mo native only managed two goals last season between the Battalion and the Spirit. Clarke played the first 21 games of the 2013-14 season with the North Bay Battalion where he scored just 1 goal and 2 assists, before being traded to Saginaw. His production was similar in a Spirit sweater, again, due mostly to a nagging upper body injury. Clarke was ranked pretty high on a lot of end of the season draft boards, but watched the entire2014 NHL draft without hearing his name called. The Detroit Red Wings, however, invited Clarke to their prospects camp this summer, where he will compete in the Red Wings Prospects tournament featuring a total of 8 NHL teams and their respective young prospects later this month in Traverse City, Mi.
Nick Moutrey (fourth round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets, 105 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) returns for his fourth season in Saginaw. Moutrey had a decent year last year, very similar in production to his second year in Saginaw. The 6'-3” 208 lb Toronto native will look to eclipse the 31 goals, 53 assists, 84 points he combined for over the last two seasons and lead this Saginaw team on a deep playoff run.
The teams defensemen will be a little deeper than they have in past years, led by veterans Sean Callaghan andJake Ringuette; along with Brandon Prophet, Daniel De Sousa, Michael Holmes, and Ryan Orban the backend should see a much needed improvement this year.
Rookies and newcomers
The Spirit made some off-season trades, acquiring some talented young players. The team made a couple trades in August in order to acquire Connor Brown from the Ottawa 67s. Brown tallied 15 goals, 5 assists, and 20 points over his first two seasons with Ottawa. Look for Brown to make an immediate impact with the Spirit. In the other August trade, the Spirit acquired twin brothers, Mitchell and Jack Webb from the Peterborough Petes. The brothers Webb are entering their second season in the OHL. Rookies Tie Felhaber, Keaton Middleton, and Marcus Crawford will all be expected to contribute this year for the Spirit.
For now, Nikita Serebryakov will be the starter for the Spirit. As long as Red Wings prospect, Jake Patersonstays with the Grand Rapids Griffins, it looks like Serebryakov will be the go to guy for Saginaw between the pipes.