The Saginaw Spirit (23-11-2-2) got a little taste of what the future may hold following two blockbuster trades, receiving big contributions from recently acquired forwards Ryan McLeod and Owen Tippett, who each had 2-points apiece in their respective Spirit debut's, with both helping to lead Saginaw to its fifth straight with a 5-2 victory over the Kitchener Rangers (17-18-3-0) in front of 5,133 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw tonight.
The Spirit have now won 9 of its last 10 games, picking up 19 of a possible 20 points in that span, something McLeod was acutely aware of coming into tonight's game, which is why he wanted to make his impact felt early, so he could keep the team's momentum on track and moving forward.
“We knew they were on a really hot roll right now, so we didn't want to cool them down or change up anything,” McLeod said of Saginaw's recent success. “But I think we came in and made ourselves noticed, we put our best foot forward and had a good game, now hopefully we can keep rolling and just keep adding more firepower.”
McLeod made his presence felt early on, taking a pass from Hayden Davis then setting up Cole Coskey (21) with his twenty-first goal of the season for an early 1-0 Spirit lead at 3:39 of the first period, before McLeod would find Albert Michnac (11) with another helper on the second Saginaw goal to take a 2-0 lead at the 7:41 mark of the opening frame, eventually out-shooting the Rangers by a dominant 12-4 margin throughout the first twenty minutes.
“It was really good to get on the board early,” McLeod added. “It's been fun so far, so hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
Saginaw head coach Chris Lazary is now 12-2-1-1 since taking over behind the Spirit bench back on Nov 18, and he can't say enough about the addition of the two new weapons at his disposal -not only in terms of their impact on the ice- but even more importantly, with the character of the two superstars and how they've gone above and beyond to fit in with their new teammates off the ice as well.
“Yeah, I mean 'Clouder' (McLeod) was what, two shifts into his career here and he picks up a point, and then 'Tipp' (Tippett) wasn't too far behind,” a happy Lazary said. “But, you know what, I think the thing that I was most impressed with was to come in and see these guys as people, they are two unbelievable kids. And we knew we were getting good kids, but right away, just the way they fit in with their teammates, the way they talk, you know, we're lucky to have them. Then you add in what they can do on the ice and it's pretty special.”
Midway through the middle frame it was Tippett's turn to get in on the action, as he picked up a pass from Davis near the left point and found a streaking Cole Perfetti (16) who went wide around the left face off dot, setting up a Rangers' defenseman as a screen before beating Kitchener goal tender Lucas Pfeil five-hole with a nifty wrist shot for a 3-0 Saginaw lead at 9:42 of the second period.
Following a very hectic week, Tippett (who had just returned from playing for team Canada at the 2019 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships) was excited to finally get on the ice with his talented new teammates and pick up the win tonight.
“There's a lot of skill in this group,” Tippett said. “And obviously it shows with the plays we were able to make, but it's been a busy day and I'm glad we were able to come away with the two points.”
The Rangers managed to get on the board when former Spirit forward Ryan Stepien (who was sent to Kitchener in a three-way trade which brought Justin Murray to Saginaw from Barrie on Dec 10, last month) scored his fourth goal of the season from Joseph Garreffa to cut the Saginaw lead to 3-1 at 13:37 of the second period.
Kitchener made things interesting midway through the final frame when forward Riley Damiani (14) beat Spirit goal tender Ivan Prosvetov with a beautiful bar-down snap-shot, cutting the Saginaw lead to 3-2 at 11:16 of the third, however, the Spirit would answer just 16-seconds later when Michnac (12) buried his second of the night with assists from Bode Wilde and Coskey to extend the Saginaw lead to 4-2 at 11:32 of the final period, before Tippett (20) put the game out of reach with 26-seconds left, scoring the empty-net goal on a feed from Murray for a 5-2 lead at the 19:34 mark.
The Spirit will be back in action hosting the Sudbury Wolves for a 5:30 pm face off right here at the Dow tomorrow afternoon, and if tonight's attendance is any indication of the excitement which has been created throughout the Saginaw metropolitan area following the addition of these two players, then Lazary and his new collection of skilled hockey players are willing to do whatever it takes to keep those seats filled, while tirelessly working toward bringing home a long-awaited hockey championship.
“The guy's on the bench said they had never seen the rink this full,” Lazary noted. “But hey, we're all in and if that's what it's going to be like every night here, then we'll play even harder for our fans. We're trying to do something special for this city and these people that have been here a long long time, that have had some tough years. We're knocking on the door and we've got a lot of work to do, but hopefully we can get it done.”
Video of Spirit players leaving the ice after 5-2 win over Kitchener tonight: