The Saginaw Spirit were completely dominated by the Plymouth Whalers 4-1 in front of 5,527 screaming elementary school-aged students at the Dow Event Center Tuesday afternoon. The 10:45 a.m. contest was the annual “Education Day” for several middle-school students from the Great Lakes Bay Region. Unfortunately, it was this young Saginaw Spirit team who received the education; compliments of their in-state rival, the Plymouth Whalers.
The Spirit have now lost four straight games, but remain a solid eight points ahead of the Windsor Spitfires for the eighth and final western conference playoff spot with just six games remaining in the 2013 OHL season. Spirit coach, Greg Gilbert was frustrated with his young team following the game. The second year Spirit coach has preached playing a tough, physical brand of hockey since his arrival in Saginaw last season; and when his players aren’t finishing checks, or getting back on defense in transition, or spinning away from checks to avoid getting hit, the former NHL player and Stanley Cup champion knows there will only be one result with that type of play; losses.
Gilbert knows his team has to outwork the opponent to get wins against a team like the Plymouth Whalers -arguably the OHL’s toughest team heading into the playoffs- and he just didn’t see it from his young Spirit team Tuesday afternoon. “Just finish checks, that’s all we ask,” said a frustrated Gilbert. “I mean, 2-of the-4 goals today were a direct result of our guys trying to find an easy way to get a tough job done; just swinging by, they try to poke-check, they come in and they score; because we’re not committed to finishing the check and finishing the body, and teams like Plymouth are going to make you pay for those little mistakes, and we made a lot of them today.”
Former Spirit captain Vince Trocheck gave Plymouth an early 1-0 lead when he scored his forty-seventh goal of the season at 6:34 of the first period. Plymouth winger, Matthew Mistele extended the lead when he scored at 17:44 of the opening period, giving his team a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Spirit rookie, Andrey Alexeev cut the Plymouth lead to one goal when he scored his eighth goal of the season at 4:26 of the first period. Plymouth winger, Tom Wilson put the game out of reach for the Spirit, extending the Plymouth lead back to two goals at 11:07 of the second, and Mitchell Heard added a power play goal at 6:39 of the third period to seal the deal for the Whalers.
The 4-1 loss did not do the Whalers justice; as they seemed to have complete control of the game from the first drop of the puck. Spirit goalie, Jake Paterson was the reason it remained only a three-goal deficit and was one of the rare bright spots for the Spirit, as the Detroit Red Wing prospect continued his brilliant play between the pipes for the Saginaw Spirit. Paterson stopped 30-of the-34 shots he faced Tuesday; which is saying quite a bit because most of Plymouths thirty-four shots were very high-quality scoring opportunities.
Coach Gilbert tried to remain positive as his team gets ready for the OHL post season. “We’re taking it day to day,” said Gilbert. “We’ve got tomorrow and Thursday; then we play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So, it’s all about competing and not making those mental mistakes; by now, they(the Spirit players) should know what our system’s are, and they should know they have to move the puck quick, and get it going in the opposite direction in order to win games.”
The Spirit will start a four-game road trip this week, as they play in Kitchener on Friday and Guelph on Saturday; before heading back to Michigan to play the Plymouth Whalers at the Compuware Arena Sunday afternoon. The Spirit will head across the Blue Water Bridge to Sarnia, Ontario on Thursday March, 14 to take on the Sting; and finally head home for the last two games of the regular season, hosting Kitchener on Friday March, 15 and hosting their likely first-round playoff opponent (the London Knights) on Saturday March, 16 for the final game of the 2013 OHL season.