Despite letting a 4-2 lead slip away late in the third period, the Saginaw Spirit (26-19-8-0) got a late goal to force overtime, before pulling out a 6-5 shootout victory over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (45-6-2-2) at the Dow Event Center tonight.
Entering tonight's game against the Soo (the No. 1 ranked team in the entire 60-team Canadian Hockey League) the Spirit had 8 overtime losses, including 4 OT losses in its last 5 games, which was bittersweet for Spirit head coach Troy Smith.
On one hand, his team had lost four games in overtime, however, the Spirit had still managed to earn 6-points in the standings during that stretch. Smith knows what a signature win over junior hockey's top team can do for his young group as the playoffs draw near.
“It's huge for the confidence obviously,” Smith said. “We've had eight overtime losses, and to bang one out against the best team in our league is a great step forward, and something we have to continue to build on. We'll have to continue to try and get points every night, like we have been. If we do that, then the standings will sort out just fine.”
In the shootout, Saginaw goal tender Evan Cormier stoned Soo forward Jack Kopacka on the first attempt, and Spirit sniper Cole Coskey followed with a shootout goal against Soo goal tender Tyler Johnson, before Cormier easily stopped Greyhounds' forward Taylor Raddysh, setting up the game winning shootout goal by Blade Jenkins, who went five-hole on Johnson for the victory.
“I saw Cole (Coskey) he went down and just fired it, and the key all night was to just put pucks on net,” Jenkins said. “I came down, trying to see what he would go for, and the five hole was there.”
After three unanswered third period goals by Greyhounds' forwards: Boris Katchouk (9:11); Hayden Verbeek (9:28); and Morgan Frost (13:39) had turned a 4-2 Saginaw lead into a 5-4 Soo lead, seemingly sucking the life out of the fans inside the Dow Event Center.
Spirit LW D.J. Busdeker (9) managed to instantly breathe that life back into the Saginaw crowd when he knocked a Ryan Stepien rebound clean out of mid-air and past Johnson to tie the game at 5-goals apiece at 16:12 of the third period, forcing overtime, and eventually a shootout.
Saginaw had drawn first blood when Kyle Bollers (8) buried a one-timer on a nice feed from Ryan Stepien and Mason Kohn to take a 1-0 lead at 5:32 of the first period.
The Soo answered just 16-seconds later when Raddysh (27) tied the game at 1-goal apiece with his twenty-seventh goal of the season at 5:48 of the first period.
With less than a minute left in the first period the Spirit pulled ahead when Max Grondin (10) fired a wrist shot from the right half-boards, whipping the puck into the top right corner of the net with an assist coming from Danny Katic for a 2-1 Spirit lead at 19:04 of the opening period.
The Spirit took advantage of a Soo interference penalty midway through the second frame when Hayden Davis (4) fired a shot from the right point, off the stick of a Soo defender and into the net for a power play goal with assists from Damien Giroux and Keaton Middleton to build a 3-1 Saginaw lead at 13:25 of the second period.
With 20-seconds left in the second period, the Spirit were whistled for a double-minor holding penalty (4-minutes) then opened the third period with a 2-minute slashing penalty, leading to a 5 on 3 man-advantage for the Soo, who cut the Spirit lead to 3-2 when defenseman Rasmus Sandin (7) scored the power play goal at 3:06 of the final period.
Shortly following the Sandin goal, the Spirit had a bit of a letdown when a Busdeker goal was disallowed following a review, however, just over 3-minutes later, Jenkins (16) fired a shot past Johnson on the stickside with an assist from Aidan Prueter to give the Spirit a 4-2 lead at 6:18 of the third period.
Jenkins, who is currently fourth in OHL rookie scoring, once had the rookie lead earlier this year, before a 10-game goal drought prior to tonight. The Jackson native couldn't have picked a better time get back on track.
“Obviously, It feels pretty good to get back on the score sheet,” Jenkins admitted. “It felt good, especially against a good team like (the Soo) it definitely gives you confidence moving forward.”
Cormier stopped 37 of the 42 shots he faced in net for the Spirit, while Johnson turned away 20 of the 25 shots he saw between the pipes for the Soo tonight.
The Spirit will now prepare for a showdown with likely first round playoff opponent the Sarnia Sting, who will be in Saginaw Friday for a 7:05 pm face off at the Dow Event Center.
Saginaw Jr Spirit Scott Winchester award finalists: