Leading up to tonight's meeting with the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights, the Saginaw Spirit (20-23-6-2) had not managed a victory against the dominant Knights (34-9-3-4) since a 3-1 win on Jan. 17, 2014 in front of 9,046 fans
at Budweiser Gardens in London, ON, however, that would all change with a 4-1 Spirit victory, ending a 3-game losing skid in front of 5,122 fans at the Dow Event Center tonight.
Trailing 4-0 with 1-minute left in regulation, London coach Dale Hunter decided to pull his goal tender following a 2-minute high sticking minor to Spirit forward Kyle Bollers at 17:11 of the third period, opening the door for Sam Miletic to break up Saginaw goal tender Evan Cormier's shutout bid with a power play goal at 19:10 of the final period.
Despite the one blemish late in the game, Spirit head coach Spencer Carbery could not say enough positive things about his goal tender's performance tonight, as well as how his team responded -or more importantly- how it did not retaliate, in a very chippy game that had its share of tension from both sides, which included an ejection to London assistant coach Dylan Hunter (son of Dale).
“We were able to weather the storm early,” Carbery said. “I think it was one of the best games I've seen 'Corms' (Cormier) play this year. Things were getting a little heated and we were able to keep our cool and go on the power play and get a couple goals on that 5 on 3 early in the game.”
Carbery was referring to how his team had avoided retaliation when things started to get out of control after a string of London penalties starting with Adrian Carbonara, who was called for double minor penalties (roughing/slashing) at 17:10 of the opening period, along with an additional roughing minor to Alex Formenton followed by a 10-minute misconduct penalty for no mouth guard to Brandon Crawley at the 17:48 mark.
The Spirit made quick work of the 5 on 3 man-advantage when defenseman Filip Hronek (a second round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, 53 overall, in the 2016 NHL draft) scored his ninth of the season, a power play goal from Matthew Kreis and Cole Coskey at 18:11 for a 1-0 lead.
Defenseman C.J. Garcia (5) added to the remaining power play with his fifth goal of the season from Kris Bennett and Marcus Crawford at 19:59 for a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Spirit leading scorer Hayden Hodgson (30) kept the momentum going early in the second period, scoring his thirtieth goal of the season from Bennett for a 3-0 lead just 1:11 into the second period.
The Spirit would go on to convert a third power play opportunity against the team with the No. 1 penalty kill in the OHL when Kreis (8) sniped a shot over London goal tender Tyler Parson's shoulder for his eighth goal of the season and a 4-0 lead at 14:05 of the second period. Coskey and Hronek assisted on the Kreis goal.
Cormier turned in a spectacular 40-save performance, stopping 40 of the 41 London shots he would face in net for the Spirit tonight.
Kreis and Hronek paced the Spirit offense with 1-goal and 1-assist each respectively, while Coskey and Bennett also added 2-point night's with 2-assists apiece respectively.
Despite its landmark victory, the Spirit (48 points) failed to gain any ground on its rival the Flint Firebirds (52 points) for the eighth and final western conference playoff spot, continuing to trail its southern I-75 rival by four points in the OHL standings after a Firebirds' 5-2 victory over the Kitchener Rangers at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint earlier tonight.
The Spirit will return to action when it travels to the Essar Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, ON for a 7:07 pm game against the Soo Greyhounds Wednesday night.