The Saginaw Spirit fell behind (3-2) after surrendering two late goals (just 43 seconds apart) with just over 10-minutes to play in regulation, however, veteran Spirit forward Cole Coskey (4) managed to tie the game with a late power play goal, setting up a heroic game winning power play goal from Spirit rookie Aidan Prueter (1) who gave the Spirit a 4-3 victory over the Mississauga Steelheads with his first career Ontario Hockey League goal at the Dow Event Center tonight.
Saginaw head coach Troy Smith knows how hard this group of Spirit players has worked, only to come up 1-goal short time after time early in this OHL season. He also knows that battling to come back and having to fight for a win, like his team did tonight, could be exactly what this young team needed in terms of confidence going forward.
“I think it was most important mentally,” Smith said of tonight's comeback win. “We've had some tough games here where we've lost some leads. You know (tonight) we lost the lead, then battled back and really executed on our power plays, it's just really good for the kids' confidence, and I'm happy for them because they've worked so hard.”
After the Steelheads took a 3-2 lead in the third period, Spirit over age defenseman Marcus Crawford took an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with just over 5-minutes to play in the third period, but the veteran leader made up for his untimely penalty, earning an assist on Coskey's game-tying goal, and another assist on Prueter's game-winning goal.
“There was definitely some frustration there, but we need over ager's like (Marcus) to step up,” Smith said of his veteran defenseman. “I think he knows that the penalty probably wasn't a smart one. But, again, he re-focused, he moved on, and he capitalized on our opportunities.”
With 23 seconds left in the Crawford penalty, Mississauga LW Trent Fox was whistled for a 2-minute roughing penalty and his line-mate Albert Michnac was simultaneously given a 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, setting up a 5 on 3 (for 3-minutes and 37-seconds) for the Spirit with only 3:39 left once Crawford came out of the box.
It didn't take long for Coskey to the game at 3-goals apiece with a power play goal (his fourth goal of the season) with assists coming from rookie defenseman Caleb Everett and Crawford at 16:46 of the third period.
After hearing his coaches displeasure for going 0 for 5 on the power play and blowing a lead in the previous night's game, the veteran leader, Coskey knows exactly what this win meant for his young team.
“It was huge for the team to get those two points for the boys,” Coskey said. “Coach kind of got on us about it, we needed to dial it in and come big tonight, and when we did, I think it was huge.”
Still on a power play, Crawford then went D to D with Keaton Middleton (a fourth round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL draft) who found Prueter at the top of the right circle, where he stepped to his left and fired a low wrist shot, which beat Mississauga goal tender Jacob Ingham through the five-hole for a 4-3 Spirit lead at 17:36 of the third period.
“I was set up on the flank, the pass came and I was just trying to get a shot through,” Prueter said. “The (defenseman) went down, so I just tried to shoot it through him, and I guess that kind of screened the goalie too, and just trickled in, so it was nice,”
“Every time the coach pat's you on the shoulder, and put's you on the ice, he's relying on you to do something,” Prueter noted. “Whether it's to just not get scored on, or put the puck in the net; or just have a good, hard shift, and I managed to put one in with my teammates and my line-mates. It just felt nice.”
The Spirit had gone down a goal early when Mississauga defenseman Nicolas Hague (a second round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, 34 overall, in the 2017 NHL draft) scored his first goal of the season to give the Steelheads a 1-0 lead at 6:06 of the first period.
Spirit third year forward Brady Gilmour (3) answered with his third goal of the season just 51-seconds later when he scored a shorthanded goal from Damien Giroux to tie the game at 1-goal apiece at 6:57 of the opening period.
Shortly after Gilmour had tied the game, Harrison township native Ben Badalamenti (3) would give the Spirit a 2-1 lead with his third goal of the season from Danny Katic and Everett at 12:24 of the second period.
After watching his team blow a lead and let the game slip away last night, Smith was relieved to see how his team responded to adversity, seizing on the late power play opportunities for a victory tonight.
“Last night we had the opportunity to win the game and we let the other team take control,” Smith said. “Whereas tonight, I thought we were a lot more calm. We took advantage of the situation and executed.”
Spirit goal tender Evan Cormier (a fourth round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2016 NHL draft) turned away 17 of the 20 shots he faced in between the pipes for the Spirit tonight.
The Spirit are off until next week when the Guelph Storm make a visit on Sat. Oct. 21, for a 7:05 pm face off at the Dow Event Center.