After dropping the past three games, Saginaw Spirit head coach Troy Smith was relieved to see his hockey team back in the win column, taking the 2018-19 opening round of the I-75 Divide Cup Series with a 6-2 road victory over in-state rivals the Flint Firebirds at the Dort Federal Event Center in downtown Flint, MI tonight.
“The last couple of games haven't been the best for us, but I really liked our game today,” Smith said. “For the most part, we played the way we had to play to become a successful team. We've had some tough games, and this is a tough place to win, so we were happy to do that and we can move forward now.”
The Firebirds struck first, taking an early lead when second year Flint forward Jacob Winterton (2) scored his second goal of the season with an assist from Eric Uba to give the Firebirds a 1-0 lead at 2:40 of the first period.
Saginaw would take advantage of a hooking penalty to Flint forward Jake Durham just past the midway point of the opening frame when Spirit forward Nicholas Porco (4) scored a power play goal, his fourth goal of the season, from rookie Cole Perfetti and Damien Giroux to tie the game at 1-goal apiece at 14:29 of the first period.
Just 22-seconds after setting up Porco with the power play goal, Giroux (1) gave the Spirit the lead with his first goal of the season with an assist coming from Bode Wilde at 14:51 of the first, sending the Spirit into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.
With the Spirit on a penalty kill in the first minute of the middle frame, Porco (5) extended the Saginaw lead with an unassisted short-handed goal, his second of the night, for a 3-1 Spirit lead at 1:45 of the second period.
In just five games this year, Porco has now equaled the number of goals he scored throughout his entire rookie season, and a big part of that new found success happened when Smith inserted Porco onto a line with Blade Jenkins and Giroux, making the trio one of the top producing lines this year, while giving Giroux confidence in he and Jenkins' new line-mate.
“He's a tremendous player, he has a high hockey I.Q. and he has a lot of speed,” Giroux said of Porco. “So, it's nice to have him on our line, just to know you've got someone who can really play on your line, and who can really boost your confidence a little bit, it really helps.”
Porco is looking forward to having an entire season playing alongside Jenkins and Giroux as well.
“You know, they're two great players who understand the game very well,” Porco added of Giroux and Jenkins. “They can find me out there, I can find them, you know, it's an honor to play with them. So, I'm hoping to keep producing points with them, and look forward to a future with them.”
The Firebirds made it a close game midway through the second when Ethan Keppen (3) scored his third of the season from Jack Phibbs to cut the Saginaw lead to 3-2 at 9:53 of the second period.
Wilde (1) would answer with a power play goal, his first career OHL goal, scoring with an absolute laser of a wrist shot from the right point, finding a tiny window over the right shoulder of Flint goal tender Emanuel Vella, where he hit the back bar in the top corner of the net with an assist coming from Albert Michnac for a 4-2 Spirit lead at 7:47 of the third period.
Spirit forward Jake Goldowski (2) followed with his second goal of the season, knocking the puck out of mid-air and past Vella with assists coming from Max Grondin and Perfetti for a 5-2 lead at 15:01 of the third, before Perfetti (3) would round out the scoring with his third goal of the season (and third point of the night) in the final minute of play from Hayden Davis and Brady Gilmour for a 6-2 Saginaw lead at 19:09 of the final period.
With the win, the Spirit (2-2-1-0) improve to .500 and will now prepare for a big road trip, where they will take on the undefeated Kitchener Rangers (3-0) inside the historic Kitchener Auditorium in Kitchener, ON at 7:30 pm this Friday night, before heading to Erie, PA to wrap up the road trip against the Erie Otters (1-2-0-0) at the Erie Insurance Arena for a 7 pm face off on Saturday night.