For the third straight game the Saginaw Spirit (13-16-5-2) dropped a 1-goal decision (its fifth consecutive loss since before the Christmas break) this time, suffering a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss to its rival the Flint Firebirds (17-16-0-2) in the I-75 divide cup series at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint, MI tonight.
Spirit overage forward Hayden Hodgson (20) got the Spirit on the board early in the game with his twentieth goal of the season with assists from Marcus Crawford and C.J. Garcia for a 1-0 lead at 1:37 of the first period.
Flint, however, would answer just 24-seconds later when defenseman Hakon Nilsen (2) scored his second of the season at 1:51 of the first to tie the game at a goal apiece.
The Firebirds' would strike again later in the first period when Kole Sherwood (14) buried his fourteenth of the season at the 11:17 mark of the first period, taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
Midway through the second period the Spirit got some production from its 'grind line' when rookie Gianluca Fuoco (1) scored his first career Ontario Hockey League goal from fellow rookie Max Grondin at 6:06 of the second period for a 2-2 tie game.
The 'grind line' has been asked to step up and contribute more as of late with a recent rash of injuries and the loss of players competing at the 2017 WJC, and the young guns have responded nicely.
The game appeared to be heading to a shootout when Firebirds' forward Mathieu Henderson (8) scored his eighth of the season for the game winning goal with 8-seconds left in the overtime session for the 3-2 win.
Spirit goal tender Evan Cormier stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced in net tonight. The Firebirds now lead the 2016-17 I-75 Divide Cup season series 3 games to 1, while boasting a 7-3-0-1 all time career record against the Spirit.
With injuries plaguing his team, Spirit head coach Spencer Carbery can't get his two best players back into the lineup soon enough.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and Spirit team captain Mitchell Stephens (Team Canada) and Detroit Red Wings prospect Filip Hronek (Czech Republic national team captain) are currently competing in the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation U-20 World Junior Championships which will be taking place until Jan. 5, in Toronto and Montreal.
While Carbery would love to have his star's back in a Saginaw sweater tomorrow, at the same time as a Canadian kid who has played hockey his whole life, he's still a fan of the annual event and extremely happy for his players' and their accomplishments while competing for their respective countries in an event that is broadcast nationally throughout Canada and the whole world every night, much like the Olympics.
“Canada's playing well,” Carbery said. “Mitch, I watched his game the other night and he was the first over the boards on the penalty kill, and then Filip as well, you know Filip is the Capatin of the Czech Republic team, so he was anchoring their first unit power play. That was pretty cool to see those guys out there on the big stage and playing in key roles.”
Carbery acknowledges the offensive importance Stephens has to his Saginaw team, however he sees his role with team Canada more akin to what his role will be when he makes it to the next level.
“That's sort of more what Stevie is,” Carbery continued. “For us, he's our offensive catalyst so everyone sees him as that, but when he settles in at the highest level and plays in the NHL he'll be more of a third or fourth line, you know, really solid two way player.”
The Spirit will be off until next week when they host a couple key division opponents at the Dow Event Center. They will enjoy the return of Stephens and Hronek on Friday Jan. 6, as they host the Sarnia Sting then welcome Stephens' team Canada line-mate Dylan Strome and the very tough Erie Otters Saturday Jan. 7, at the Dow Event Center both games are set to start at 7:05 pm.