The Saginaw Spirit (18-10-2-2) are now alone in second place in the Ontario Hockey League's western conference standings after veteran Cole Coskey (17) broke a 3-3 tie, scoring in the final few minutes on a play which was set up by Saginaw rookie defenseman Mitchell Smith with an additional assist from Danil Antropov to give the Spirit a 4-3 lead at 16:23 of the third period, before Damien Giroux (20) followed with an empty net goal at the 18:52 mark to secure a 5-3 victory over the Flint Firebirds, taking a 3-games-to-1 lead in the I-75 Divide Cup Series at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saturday night.
The Spirit collected 6-points over the weekend after winning three games in as many nights, which left Saginaw coach Chris Lazary bursting with pride, knowing how hard his players worked for this win, also giving credit to his backup goal tender, Marshall Frappier, who's had to step into the starter roll as of late.
“I'm just happy for the kids,” Lazary said. “Obviously, we want to win games, but our players wanted this bad. We knew how big the weekend was, we had injuries in the lineup, suspensions in the lineup and I know (other) team's do too, but you've got to find a way to win games and our young guy's -our sixteen year old kids, our seventeen year old guy's- they've all stepped up. Frapp's (Frappier) has done an unreal job in net, so to see those guy's get rewarded after putting in all that work, it's special.”
Flint had jumped out to the early lead when Vancouver Canucks 2019 fourth round pick Ethan Keppen (11) scored to give the Firebirds an early 1-0 lead at 8:31 of the opening frame, but Saginaw superstar Cole Perfetti (17) answered just over a minute later, knotting the game at 1-goal apiece with his seventeenth of the season from Reilly Webb and Giroux at 10:13 of the first period, while Perfetti (18) followed with his second of the night later in the first on another play which was set up by Smith with an additional assist coming from Webb for a 2-1 Spirit lead at 15:55 of the first period.
The Firebirds took advantage of a Spirit penalty midway through the second period when Flint forward Cody Morgan (9) tied the game at 2-goals apiece with a power play goal at the 13:38 mark, but Saginaw defenseman DJ Busdeker (6) would put the Spirit back on top less than a minute later when he stepped in from the right point, collecting a give-and-go from Ethan Cardwell, before roofing a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Flint goal tender Anthony Popovich for a 3-2 Spirit lead at 14:26 of the second, with an additional assist coming from Danny Katic on the play.
Flint managed to even things up early in the final frame when rookie sensation Brennan Othmann (7) -who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 OHL priority selection draft- scored on a tic-tac-toe play from Riley McCourt and Connor Roberts to tie the game at 3-goals apiece at 4:28 of the third period prior to Coskey's eventual game winning goal.
Popovich stopped 34 of the 38 shots he faced in net for the Firebirds, while Frappier turned away 24 of the 27 shots he saw between the pipes for Saginaw.
With just a few more days and one remaining game (vs Sarnia Thursday) before the first half of the 2019-20 OHL season wraps up prior to the Christmas break, Perfetti says the Spirit will be focused on finishing strong.
“Everyone's excited for Christmas, but we have business to take care of.” Perfetti said. “We know how big these two points are and we know when we play good that we can beat any team in the league. You know, Laz and the rest of the coaching staff really preach how big these games right before Christmas are. We know what they mean and how big they're going to be for us coming down the stretch. So, we're focused on this week, we're going to have a hard week in practice. We've got a good plan laid out already and we're going to get to work here in the next couple of days, sorting out our kinks then come back Thursday night hungry and ready to go. Then hopefully the Christmas break is going to be that much better after eight points.”
The Sarnia Sting will visit Saginaw for the first half finale with face off set for 7:05 pm at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw Thursday night.