After putting up a good fight, the Saginaw Spirit (the youngest team in the Ontario Hockey League) saw its season came to an end after the mighty Soo Greyhounds swept the young Spirit squad (4-games to zero) following a 5-3 victory to capture the first round of the 2018 OHL western conference playoffs at the Dow Event Center Wednesday night.
Spirit head coach Troy Smith was satisfied with his teams effort, battling back to within a goal from a three goal deficit in the third period, before pulling Saginaw goal tender Evan Cormier for a chance to tie the game at the end, however, the Soo managed to score an empty net goal, ending any chance of a Spirit comeback.
“I thought it was our best game of the series by far,” Smith said. “When they went up two in the third, we could have very easily quit, but, it's kind of been the character of this team all year long, where we don't quit, then we gave ourselves an opportunity with the goalie (pulled) out, but it just wasn't enough.”
The Spirit had jumped out to an early lead when Cole Coskey (2) scored his second goal of the playoffs with assists from Blade Jenkins and Hayden Davis just :40 seconds into the first period and carrying that 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Soo answered in the middle frame when Boris Katchouk (4) tied the game at 1-goal apiece at the 5:24 mark, before Tim Gettinger (1) gave the Greyhounds a 2-1 lead at 7:06, followed by a power play goal from Katchouk (5) who scored his second of the night to give the Soo a 3-1 lead at 17:41 of the second period.
After a late Spirit penalty in the final minute of the second period, Soo defenseman Conor Timmons (2) opened up a 4-1 Greyhounds' lead with a power play goal just :55 seconds into the third period.
The Spirit responded when rookie Blade Jenkins orchestrated a beautiful play, setting up D.J. Busdeker (1) with his first career playoff goal. Jenkins went coast to coast, drawing the attention of every Soo defender, before dumping off to Jake Goldowski, who found Busdeker in the high slot, cutting the Greyhounds' lead to 4-2 at 2:25 of the second period.
Saginaw picked up the intensity in the third, led by a thundering hit from Spirit rookie Nicholas Porco on Soo forward Ryan Roth, who had to leave the game as Porco suddenly had a target on his back.
On his next shift, Porco was going hard to the net, all the while knowing he was about to take a big hit from two Soo defenders, so he took the hit, along with the two defenders, but not before making a nice behind the back pass to Busdeker, whose quick hands pulled the puck to his forehand and buried his second of the night to cut the Greyhounds' lead to 4-3 at 16:19 of the third period.
The Spirit pulled Cormier for an extra attacker, however, Katchouk (6) scored his hat trick with an empty net goal to put the game, and the series out of reach at 18:49 of the third period.
Cormier, stopped 23 of the 27 shots he faced in net tonight, and the 2016 New Jersey Devils draft pick wrapped up a spectacular career in Saginaw, finishing as one of the most beloved players, as well as, arguably, the most valuable goal tender in franchise history.
“Coming here from North Bay (Battalion) I didn't really know what to expect,” said an emotional Cormier following tonight's game. “It was my first time living outside of Canada, but this organization has been nothing but amazing for me and my development. I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without all of the ownership, without all the coaches I've had in the past, and all of the players I've played with. Definitely, tonight was a tough pill to swallow, but, I just have to look forward from here now and keep working hard.”
Saginaw really won Cormier's heart, especially the families he lived with during his three years with the Spirit.
“My billet families here have been amazing, I've lived with two families here, and they were both great families, Cormier continued. “Kevin and Christa Smillie and their two kids Ian and Owen, then Joe Diebold and Vicky Small, they are who I'm living with this year, and they've all been amazing over the past three years I've been living here.”
Along with Cormier, Spirit veteran Mason Kohn also played his final OHL game tonight, as well as defenseman Marcus Crawford, who spent his entire OHL career in a Spirit sweater, who will finish as one of the best defenesmen in franchise history.
Spirit leave the ice for the final time this year: