The Saginaw Spirit dropped a 4-2 road decision to the second-ranked team in the CHL (the Guelph Storm) in front of 3,566 at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph, Ontario Sunday night. After a very tumultuous December, the Spirit have a respectable 7-3 record through their ten games in the month of January. Also, 5- of Saginaw’s- 7 wins in January have come against Memorial Cup contenders; Guelph, London (twice), and Sudbury (twice). Things won’t get much easier for the Spirit (23-20-4-1) as they’ll continue to play some of the top OHL/CHL teams to round out January and all of February. The Soo Greyhounds (twice), Kingston Frontenacs, Erie Otters, and Guelph Storm (twice) are all on Saginaw’s schedule for late January/and throughout the entire month of February. On a positive note, the Spirit will play 5-of their next-8 games at home inside the Dow Event Center.
After falling behind 1-0 early in the first period Sunday evening, Spirit right wing, Jimmy Lodge (Winnipeg Jets third round draft pick, 84 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) took a Mitchell Stephens pass and buried his fifteenth goal of the season past Guelph tender, Justin Nichols at 9:30 of the first period. The penalty kill continues to be a concern for the Spirit, and was particularly costly in Sunday night’s loss. Saginaw is currently ranked 11-out of-20 on the penalty kill in the OHL, but the young Spirit team seems to be having more of a problem on the road with the PK as of late; which would explain Saginaw’s 14-out of-20 (road PK) ranking. The Spirit have 1-win and 3-losses in their last four games -all of which- have been on the road. The PK was an issue in all three of Saginaw’s recent road losses. Sunday night in Guelph, 3-of the-4 Storm goals were scored on the power play; also, three days prior to the Guelph loss, the Spirit gave up 2-of their-5 goals while on the PK in their 5-1 loss to the North Bay Battalion in North Bay, Ontario Thursday January, 23. Finally, in their 7-2 road loss to the Plymouth Whalers back on January, 20 (just down the road) in Plymouth, Mi the Spirit allowed their in-state rivals a staggering 50% success rate on the power play.
Nearly two minutes after Saginaw defenseman, Justin Sefton was whistled for interference at the 10:00 mark of the first period Sunday, Guelph superstar, Kerby Rychel (son of former Saginaw Hawk & Chicago Blackhawk, Warren Rychel and current Columbus Blue Jackets first round pick, 19 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) scored a power play goal to put the Storm up 2-1 at 11:50 of the opening period. Almost two minutes after Rychel’s power play goal, his future team mate in Columbus, Spirit right wing, Nick Moutrey (Columbus Blue Jackets fourth round pick, 105 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) scored his twelfth goal of the season from Dylan Sadowy at 13:45 of the first period, sending the two teams into the first intermission tied at two goals apiece. The Saginaw offense disappeared after that first period.
Rychel scored (what proved to be) the game winning goal at 6:07 of the second period (while on the power play) following a delay-of-game penalty to Spirit defenseman, Sean Callaghan at 5:32 of the second period. Guelph left wing, Brock McGinn ultimately added an insurance goal (the storms third power play goal of the night) at 13:38 of the third period to round out the scoring. Spirit goalie, Jake Paterson (Detroit Red Wings third round pick, 80 overall in the 2013 NHL draft) turned away 44-of the Storms-48 shots between the pipes for the Spirit.
The Spirit will continue their pursuit to qualify for the OHL playoffs by closing out January with a road trip to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario against the Soo Greyhounds tonight at 7:07 p.m. The team will then return home to the Dow Event Center on Friday January, 31 for a home contest against the Bellville Bulls for a 7:11 p.m. faceoff. With 51-points, the Spirit (23-20-4-1) currently maintain a decent grasp on the sixth playoff spot in the OHL’s western conference, three points ahead of the Owen Sound Attack(48); and just nine points behind the fifth place Windsor Spitfires(60), who have had Saginaw’s number over their last few meetings. The top eight teams from each conference qualify for the OHL playoffs; which traditionally start on the first Thursday following the end of the OHL regular season in March. *With their victory Sunday over the Spirit, the Guelph storm became the first team to qualify for the 2013-14 OHL playoffs.