The Saginaw Spirit had an incredible two-month run in October and November earlier this season before disaster struck in the month of December. The young Spirit team only managed 1-win in their final 13- games of the 2013 calendar year. Much of this was due to injuries, suspensions, and losing players to play for their respective country in national junior hockey tournaments. Starting goalie (Detroit Red Wings third round draft pick, 80 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) Jake Paterson, joined the Canadian Jr. National team for the second consecutive year at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmo, Sweden from December, 26 until his team Canada national team bowed out of the tournament in fourth-place, losing in the bronze-medal game to Russia on January, 5. Spirit rookie star, Mitchell Stephens was also chosen to represent his home country of Canada at the 2014 World under-17 Hockey Challenge in Novia Scotia, Canada from December, 29 through January, 4.
Spirit captain, Eric Locke was Saginaw’s key loss, missing half of November and most of December due to an upper-body injury. Locke (who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013 NHL draft) was Saginaw’s leading scorer last season with 97-points (44-goals, and 53-assists); which was enough for the twenty year old Toronto native to finish in fourth place overall in OHL scoring last season. The Spirit have also been playing the last seven -or so- games without one of their key scoring veterans, Cody Payne (a Dallas Stars draft pick via the Boston Bruins in the 2012 NHL draft) for much of the past seven games. On Friday the thirteenth of December, Payne got into a fight where he left the bench and also removed his helmet at 9:36 of the second period. Leaving the bench to fight in the OHL will automatically earn you a game misconduct, and a few game’s suspension to go along with your game misconduct. So, Payne missed the rest of the December, 13 contest; as well as the next three games. Payne returned in time for the Hockeytown Winter Festival on December, 29 where he made it through all of -maybe one or two- shift’s on the ice; before he again left the bench for a fight, earning him another game misconduct and another three-game suspension. Payne, along with Paterson, and Stephens will make their return this Friday night against the Ottawa 67’s at the Dow Event Center.
Locke has already been making his presence felt since joining the Spirit on December, 28 against the Windsor Spitfires. It took him a couple games to get his leg’s back, but the Spirit leader is making a huge contribution getting his team back in order in the locker room and on the ice. Locke has his Spirit team playing undefeated hockey so far in 2014, winning both games in the month of January. On Friday January, 3 the Spirit played their first game of the 2014 calendar year, hosting a very tough eastern conference Niagara Ice Dogs team at the Dow Event Center. The Spirit were trailing 2-1 when Locke banged home his eleventh goal of the season with just 2-minutes and seventeen-seconds remaining in regulation, ultimately sending the game to overtime, and then a shootout; where the Spirit won 3-2 with some great goal tending by Moscow, Russia native, Nikita Serebryakov. The Spirit also beat one of the toughest teams in –not just the OHL- but the entire Canadian Hockey League, the Guelph Storm 3-2 on Sunday afternoon at the Dow Event Center in front of 2,767 fans who braved a complete white-out blizzard in downtown Saginaw. Guelph has made some recent trades, which has some of the hockey experts touting them as possible contenders for the coveted Memorial Cup. With their 3-2 win over Guelph, Locke sees his team as one of the better teams in the OHL, and he is looking forward to proving that over the remaining portion of the 2014 OHL season.
“Obviously they were two big wins, although I really didn’t think we played all that well against Niagara, but we got lucky and got two points,” said Locke. “Coming out today, the penalties were something like 8-1 or 8-2 (in Guelph’s favor), but our PK (penalty kill) was awesome, and our 5-on-5 play was great, we were getting pucks deep, making sure if they scored, they had to go 200 feet -all the way- to score a goal.” “We’ve proven that we can beat the best, and skate with the best teams in the OHL, even when the odds are against us; so, we just need to be focused, and consistent, and play every game hard, and play our game, and I think we can turn things around.” “I’ve always believed in this team from day-one; we’ve always had a great lineup,” continued Locke. “Today, it really proves to the other guys on this team -and to many other teams in this league- that we are not a pushover, and I think any team who has to face us in the first round (of the OHL playoffs) is really in trouble.” “I think we are going to make a push to move up in the standings and really push to play our game; and coming down to the playoffs we will be 100-percent (healthy) and we’ll be able to really play our game; you know, we have some big boys up front and we will continue to play this grind-style hockey we have been known to play, and if you mix that in with some skill as well, I think that makes us a pretty complete hockey team.”
The Spirit will look to go 3-and-0 in the 2014 calendar year, as they host the Ottawa 67’s on Friday January, 10 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw. The puck is set to drop at 7:11 p.m. Friday evening. The Spirit will then host another Memorial Cup contender on Saturday evening, as they welcome the London Knights to the Dow Event Center for another 7:11 p.m. faceoff.