The Saginaw Spirit (5-4-1-0) battled back from a 2-nothing deficit, scoring 5 third period goals in a 6-3 victory over the London Knights in front of 3,401 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw Saturday night.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the final period, an area where his team has struggled this season, Spirit head coach Chris Lazary challenged his players during the second intermission, and they responded with, arguably, one of the best periods of the year.
“Obviously, we needed it as a group,” Lazary said. “We challenged our guys at the intermission going into the third to play like men and be relentless in our shifts, get some pucks to the net, and win some battles. It was one of our best periods of the year against a really good hockey team, I'm just really proud of our group.”
The Knights took the lead with just under a minute left in the opening frame when defenseman Alec Regula (a third round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2018 NHL draft) scored a power play goal for a 1-0 Knights lead at 19:03 of the first period, before RW Cole Tymkin (2) extended the London lead midway through the second frame on a nice feed from Jonathan Gruden (whose mother, Polly Kessel Gruden is from Saginaw) to give the Knights a 2-0 lead at 9:01 of the second period.
“We went down 2-nothing to the London Knights and they are no joke,” Lazary added. “They're obviously a really good team. The thing that I liked most about the entire night was, at the second (London) scored to put us down 2-0, our entire bench was like, 'boy's, we're getting the next one.' Their mindset was a lot different than it has been. That's part of winning, it's part of growth, it's part of maturity within your group, and it's exciting to see your team take a step like that. It means you have something special.”
Momentum began to shift in Saginaw's favor near the end of the middle frame when Tymkin was whistled for a high stick and the Spirit responded with an impressive power play goal from Cole Perfetti (2) with assists coming from Ilya Solovyov and Cole Coskey to cut the Knights' lead to 2-1 at 17:30 of the second period.
It was the first non-empty-net goal of the season for Perfetti, who has been a bit snake-bitten, hitting 14-posts this season, but Lazary credits Spirit assistant coach Jesse Messier, who runs the power play, with getting Perfetti into a better position to receive the puck in order to have a better angle for a higher quality shot while on the man-advantage.
“He's been talking to Cole about being inside the (face off) dots when we swing the puck on a power play where you're getting that shot from inside the dots,” Lazary said of his assistant coach. “So, when he receives that puck -you can watch it on tape- he's already inside the dots, which completely changes the angle and he hits the shot. Little things like that add up. We've been working hard with our guys all week and it's good to see that they're listening and executing.”
Nobody was happier to get that goal than Perfetti himself.
“It was a big relief,” Perfetti added. “I had a lot of weight on my shoulders. It's a big year and I haven't been putting up the numbers I wanted, so scoring and getting a couple of points, while contributing to the team win tonight, it was good. Hopefully, our line can keep this rolling.”
The Spirit knotted things up early in the final frame when captain Damien Giroux (8) tied the game at 2-goals apiece with assists from Cole Coskey and Perfetti at the 4:51 mark, while Spirit forward Blade Jenkins (3) gave Saginaw its first lead of the game (3-2) with an unassisted goal at 9:19 of the third.
Saginaw added, what would turn out to be, the game winning goal when Jake Goldowski (2) banged home a rebound in front of a crowded London net with assists from Camaryn Baber and Danny Katic to take a 4-2 lead at the 13:13 mark of the third, but Regula (4) would manage to keep things close, cutting the Spirit lead to 4-3 with his second tally of the night, assisted by Gruden at 16:22 of the third period.
Coskey (7) followed with an unassisted empty net goal for a 5-3 lead at 17:24 of the third, while Giroux (9) capped the Spirit scoring with just 3-seconds left, scoring his second of the night on a feed from Jenkins and Perfetti for a 6-3 lead at the 19:57 mark.
Lazary added that the coaches have started something new, breaking the season down into five game segments in order to create a playoff atmosphere, while also making the long OHL season more manageable.
"We're doing segments in the room right now, every five games and this was the fifth game," Lazary noted. "The segment was tied, two wins and two losses, and you have to win 3 out of the 5 to win the segment. So, for us it really was like a game seven. We try to trick our minds to get that intensity up. We've been talking about it for 48-hours going into this game and I think you saw that tonight in the detail and how hard we worked."
Coach Lazary credits Spirit assistant Jared Nightingale with implementing the five game segments.
"He thought it would be a good thing for our group," Lazary added. "He's the guy who has taken the lead on it, there's a little reward for the team should we be successful in a segment. This one was an extra day off at their disposal, so it's exciting for them."
London goal tender Brett Brochu stopped 28 of the 33 shots he saw in net for the Knights, while Saginaw netminder Tristan Lennox made some incredible saves, turning away 38 of the 41 shots he would face in between the pipes for the Spirit.
The Spirit will head north across the Soo locks for a mid-week road game against the Soo Greyhounds at GFL Memorial Gardens in Sault Ste. Marie, ON at 7:07 pm Wednesday night, before returning to host the North Bay Battalion at 7:05 pm back here at the Dow on Friday night.
Video of Blade Jenkins celebration after beating London goal tender Brett Brochu (30) with a wristshot over the glove side: