The Saginaw Spirit rebounded from one of the toughest stretches in their schedule over the last five games with a big 2-0 shutout victory over the division-leading Windsor Spitfires at the Dow Event Center today.
It was a fast paced back-and-forth game between two talented western conference rivals, often times going through four and five minute stretches with no whistles. Coming off five consecutive losses to some of the toughest teams in the OHL, the Spirit responded with one of their best games at both ends of the ice, much to the delight of head coach Greg Gilbert.
“It was a good balance today and we did a lot of the little things better too,” Gilbert said. “Details in this game are key and when you do the little things, the big things happen and that's what occurred tonight. We looked after our own end, we still had some turnovers in bad areas and gave them chances, but we recovered and canceled them out and cleaned up a lot of things. You know, we had a lot of chances to finish too and fortunately we were able to finish one and then add the empty-netter there at the end. But, it was a huge win for the the guys and hopefully we can get some confidence and build off of this.”
Midway through the second period Saginaw defenseman Michael Holmes skated up with the offensive play, bringing the puck into the Windsor zone, adding a fourth attacker on the fore-check and catching the defense off guard while wreaking havoc in front of the net.
Holmes worked the puck deep to Connor Brown who passed to Blake Clarke in the high slot. Clarke found Jesse Barwell parked next to the net where he buried it past Windsor goalie Mario Culina for his fifth goal of the season at 14:14 of the second period. Connor Brown would add an empty-netter late in the third period to seal the victory.
A 1-0 lead is all the cushion Spirit goal tender Evan Cormier would need as he led his team with the confidence of seasoned net minder. Cormier -who received a 'B' rating on nhlcentralscouting.com's recent list of 200 players expected to be drafted in the 2016 NHL entry draft- looked as comfortable as he has all season. The 'B' rating translates to being a possible second-to-third round pick. Gilbert had nothing but praise for his young goalie.
“Tonight, I think he was very efficient, he looked very comfortable in there,” Gilbert said of Cormier. “He wasn't overreacting, or flying all over the place. He was squaring to the shot, then up, and square to the second shot. That's when he's at his best. He's relaxed, he's calm, and he's seeing everything, it's almost like he's in a zone and when he's like he was tonight, good things happen.”
Cormier, a 6-foot-3 inch 200 pound nineteen year-old from Bowmanville, ON stopped all 29 shots he faced on net tonight. He deflected praise much in the same way he deflected those 29 shots, thanking his teammates for his success tonight.
“We realized we needed these points coming into this half of the season,” Cormier said. “After the past two games this weekend we really needed to pick it up, so I'm just happy we played well and that was a big part of my success tonight. I felt really confident out there tonight. I could just tell by the way we came out that it was going to be a good night. So, a big thanks to my team, it was a good team win tonight.”
Coach Gilbert is hoping his team can use this confidence to continue to play balanced hockey and build some momentum off this win and finish strong as they prepare for a playoff run.
“I always know what our guys are capable of if we play the right way,” Gilbert said. Our problem this year, and up to this point is inconsistency of our game. There's nights when we are world-beaters and then there are nights when we couldn't beat a minor-midget team and it's just because of complacency and little mistakes and not paying attention to little details, work ethic, and compete-levels. So, if we can bring this effort every night and this execution every night, then we're going to win our fair-share of hockey games.”
The Spirit will head out on a four game road trip this week and next week before returning to the Dow Event Center on Saturday January, 30 where they will host a very tough Kitchener Rangers team.