The Saginaw Spirit (25-11-2-2) ran its win streak to seven straight games with a 3-1 victory over the defending Ontario Hockey League champion Hamilton Bulldogs (18-19-3-1) at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw tonight.
Chris Lazary is now 14-2-1-1 since being named the new Spirit head coach back on Nov 18, collecting 30 of a possible 36 points in that span, while moving the Spirit (54-points) up to third place in the OHL's western conference standings, just 1-point behind the second place Soo Greyhounds (55-points) and 3-points behind the London Knights (57-points) for first place.
The Spirit have now scored the first goal of the game in five straight games, which Lazary believes is a big part of Saginaw's recent success, including tonight against a Hamilton team which has lost some players to trades recently, however, Lazary does not expect his players will take the foot off the proverbial gas any time soon, believing this skilled group must approach every game with complete and utter dominance in mind.
“We have to make a statement most night's in this league,” Lazary said. “(Hamilton) is in a tough spot, they've made some trades, which is very tough on a team, losing some players. But, our job is to jump on them like we did (tonight) and try to take them out of it early. We expect to dominate a lot of teams, it's not a disrespect to teams, but the way that we're built, with our roster, we should be all over teams and if we're not, then we should have an issue as a group with that.”
The Spirit jumped out to an early lead when forward Jake Goldowski (7) banged home a rebound for his seventh goal of the season with assists coming from Reagan O'Grady and Albert Michnac for a 1-0 Spirit lead at 7:51 of the first period, before Hamilton forward Logan Morrison (3) answered with the equalizer a few minutes later at the 11:22 mark, sending the two teams into the first intermission tied at 1-goal apiece.
Saginaw's impressive new power play unit would take advantage of a Hamilton penalty early in the middle frame when Spirit defenseman Bode Wilde (a second round pick of the New York Islanders in the 2018 NHL draft) scored a power play goal, the eventual game winner, after sending a wrist shot into the top right corner of the net past Bulldogs' goal tender Nick Donofrio with assists from Owen Tippett (a first round pick of the Florida Panthers, 10th overall, in the 2017 NHL draft) and Ryan McLeod (a second round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2018 NHL draft) for a 2-1 Saginaw lead at 3:19 of the second period.
Spirit defenseman Justin Murray (7) added an empty net goal in the final five seconds of the game to secure the win, scoriing his seventh of the season at 19:55 of the third period.
Saginaw goal tender Ivan Prosvetov (a fourth round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018 NHL draft) added another great performance to his great week between the pipes for the Spirit (where he was named the Canadian Hockey League goal tender of the week) stopping 26 of the 27 shots he saw tonight.
The Spirit are off tomorrow, before an anticipated road matchup against the first place London Knights with a 7:30 pm face off at Budweiser Gardens in London, ON Friday night, and Lazary knows it will be a chance to prove to the entire major junior hockey world that this Spirit team is a contender.
“It might be the biggest game in the OHL Friday night, Lazary said. “It's obviously a big test for our group. If we think we're going to do anything special this year, it probably goes through London and we're going to see exactly what we're doing well or what we need to work on when we go and play that game. You know, hopefully we can bring our best effort and we can show that we are what we think we are, but we'll see, it's going to be an exciting Friday night.”