The Saginaw Spirit (17-13-3-0) played a great defensive hockey game, limiting the No. 1 ranked team in the entire (60-team) Canadian Hockey League to just 24-shots, but a couple bad breaks late in the second period and early in the third, combined with facing an extremely hot goal tender, led to a 4-1 loss to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (30-3-2-0) who extended its streak to 21 consecutive wins in front of 3,619 faithful Spirit fans at the Dow Event Center tonight.
After a scoreless first period in which the Spirit had multiple scoring opportunities, out-shooting the Greyhounds by a 9-5 margin heading into the first intermission, however, Greyhounds goal tender Matthew Villalta (a third round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2017 NHL draft) was the difference, keeping the Spirit off the board with some incredible saves, as Saginaw continued the pressure throughout the first half of the second period.
The Spirit appeared to have finally gotten to Villalta midway through the second when rookie Aidan Prueter had two great chances on one shot, hitting the post with a laser-guided wrist shot, as the puck bounced back off of Villalta's backside and trickled towards the line, just before the Greyhounds regained control, clearing the zone with a quick outlet pass, which created an odd-man rush for Soo forward Hayden Verbeek (12) who raced up the left side and buried a wrist shot over the shoulder of Spirit goal tender Evan Cormier with assists coming from Tim Gettinger and Holden Wale for a 1-0 Soo lead at 8:04 of the second period.
In a disciplined battle between two of the OHL's hottest team's, referee's finally called the first penalty of the game, a 2-minute slashing call against Soo rookie forward Hayden Fowler at 14:23 of the second period, giving the Spirit a power play opportunity, however, Soo RW Jack Kopacka (a fourth round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2016 NHL draft) intercepted a pass, creating a 2 on 1 as he set up Keeghan Howdeshell (11) on a shorthanded goal to give the Soo a 2-0 lead at 14:50 of the second period.
The Greyhounds extended the lead early in the third period when Soo forward Morgan Frost (a first round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, 27th overall, in the 2017 NHL draft) intercepted a Spirit breakout pass and found himself all alone in front of Cormier at the right face off circle, where he buried an unassisted goal, his twentieth of the season, for a 3-0 Soo lead at 5:55 of the third period.
Kopacka (19) would round out the Greyhounds' scoring midway through the final period with his nineteenth goal of the season with assists from Howdeshell and Cole MacKay to take a 4-0 lead at the 9:48 mark of the third period.
Just 17-seconds following the Kopacka goal, Pleasant Lake, MI native Caleb Everett (4) pinched in from his d-position at the right point and fired a shot from the half-boards, beating Villalta with an unassisted goal, the fourth of his rookie campaign, to put the Spirit on the board and make it a 4-1 game at 10:05 of the third period.
Cormier (a fourth round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2016 NHL draft) stopped 20 of the 24 shots he faced while in net for the Spirit, while Villalta turned back 30 of the 31 shots he saw in between the pipes for the Soo tonight.
The Spirit will be back in action at home with a rivalry match-up on Saturday night with a chance to secure its first ever I-75 Divide Cup Series in a 7:05 pm face off against the Flint Firebirds at the Dow Event Center.
Saginaw has won the first four (of 8-total meetings) this year, and a victory on Saturday would give the Spirit a 5-0 series lead with only 3-more meetings remaining this season.