In hockey, having the personnel to match lines with the opposition is often key to winning. Such was the case for the Saginaw Spirit as they dropped the opening game of the 2014 OHL season to the Erie Otters 7-1 in front of 2,619 fans at the Dow Event Center Wednesday night.
Saginaw's top line held Erie and their top line in check for the most part Wednesday. Spirit forwards; Dylan Sadowy, Blake Clarke, and Connor Brown did a great job containing Erie superstar, Connor McDavid -who is arguably the best hockey player under the age of 18 in the world. McDavid is projected to be a top-5 pick in the 2015 NHL draft; at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida next June. Many NHL mock drafts have McDavid going number one overall.
It was Erie's second line of Mason Marchment, Dylan Strome, and Nick Betz who created havoc for the Spirit and first year starting goalie, Nikita Serebryakov. Erie's second line accounted for 3-of their first-4 goals Wednesday.
Three of Saginaw's top players; Daniel DeSousa, Jimmy Lodge, and Nick Moutrey were scratched from the lineup Wednesday night. This contributed to the mismatch in lines. Lodge and Moutrey are currently fighting for spots at their respective NHL teams' training camps. Lodge (a third round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, 84 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) and Moutrey (a fourth round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, 104 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) will bring some much needed balance when they return to the Spirit lineup.
The Spirit continuously gave the puck away in their own zone. They were having a very hard time breaking out of the zone, and getting the puck past their own blue line in transition. It was quite evident to Spirit head coach Greg Gilbert that turnovers, especially in their own end, were the biggest contributor in tonight's loss.
“The things we've been working on here since day one this year, with this group -well tonight- it was just out the window. I think we had about 32 turnovers in three periods, which is just ridiculous,” said Gilbert. “At most, during a game, when it comes to unforced turnovers through three periods, you should have maybe 8-to-10, and we had 30-plus, so we need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Spirit played eleven players who are in their second season or earlier tonight -four of those eleven- were rookies. There had to be some butterflies with all of those young players, but Spirit head coach Greg Gilbert coaches a smart, physical brand of hockey. He wants players who will play physical, with a high compete level, and play the game smart. Gilbert did not see a lot of that from his young team Wednesday.
“Our Physicality wasn't there, I mean we were working but we were working silly, we weren't thinking the game at all,” said Gilbert. “We were just chasing pucks around, and I guess you could associate some of that to nerves and all that stuff, but we have to get a lot better, we have to be a lot smarter.
Gilbert knows his hockey club can play physical, smart, competitive hockey. He saw it during the pre-season when his team won 3-of their-5 games against some very good hockey teams. The Spirit went to a shootout and lost a 3-2 decision in Sarnia in their first pre-season game. The Spirit then split a home-and-home weekend with the Plymouth Whalers, and swept the final two pre-season games against the Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
“It's a little reality check, we were thinking pretty highly of ourselves and we felt pretty good about ourselves after the pre-season we had, where we did a lot of good things,” Gilbert said. “Tonight, the game that we were starting to play in the pre-season was non-existent, and like I said, our details to our game and how we want to play was limited tonight.”
The Spirit coach knows he played a very talented Erie team, but I'm sure he will be looking for a big turnaround in the effort from his team when they host the Sarnia Sting Saturday night at 7:11 pm for the second game of the 2014 OHL season.
“They (Erie) are a good hockey club even though they've lost some guys, but we've got to be a lot better with our discipline, and our style of play was nowhere near it needs to be tonight.”