The Saginaw Spirit won their third straight game, beating the Plymouth Whalers 6-5 in front of 2,354 fans at the Dow Event Center Wednesday evening. The Spirit also made a blockbuster trade with the OHL trade deadline looming today at noon; trading captain, Vincent Trocheck to the Plymouth Whalers.
After returning from winning Gold at the IIHF World Jr. Hockey Championship in Ufa, Russia Saturday; Spirit captain, Vincent Trocheck (a Florida Panthers third round pick, 64 overall in the 2011 NHL draft) did not dress for last night’s game against the Whalers. Trocheck and his Gold Medal winning U.S. Team did not waste any time leaving Russia after Saturday’s win, jumping right on a plane that day to head back to the States. So, it was understandable why seeing Trocheck as a ‘healthy scratch’ for last night’s game set off internal alarms in many of the media; while at the same time, sending a buzz throughout the Dow Event Center as to the future of the nineteen year old Pittsburgh, Pa native who has spent his entire OHL career in Saginaw (who also happens to be just seven points shy of tying Ryan McDonough as the Spirit all time career points leader).
The Spirit brass are obviously looking to plan for the future; with already one of the youngest lineups in the OHL, the Spirit will acquire Plymouth’s first round draft pick from the 2012 OHL priority selection, Zach Bratina. Bratina, a 1996 born 6’-1” 170 lb native of Lindsay, Ontario was the nineteenth overall selection last year in the OHL and has proven himself this year with 4 goals and 4 assists for 8 points, and a plus/minus of +1 along with sixteen penalty minutes in his OHL rookie campaign. The Spirit will also acquire the Whalers second and third round OHL priority selections for 2015; along with a third round selection in the 2016 OHL priority selection draft. *The third round selection for the 2015 OHL priority selection draft originally came from the Kitchener Rangers.
The Spirit almost blew a 3-0 first period lead Wednesday evening. After playing great for the first twenty minutes, the Spirit fell back on their heels in the last two periods, letting the Plymouth players create too much time and space between them -while also not clearing out guys in front of their own net- which is a recipe for disaster in hockey. “Plymouth is a good team, they’re an experienced team, they never quit and keep coming at you,” said Spirit head coach Greg Gilbert. “We kind of sat back there; and, you know our gaps were too big and obviously, we paid the price for that, but the guys dug down and they found a way to win.”
The Spirit came out flying and Physical in the first period Wednesday evening. Veteran Spirit winger, Gregg Sutch blocked a shot from the point by Whaler defenseman, Austin Levi and streaked past Levi down the right boards on a breakaway; as the other defenseman came across the Plymouth blueline, the left-hand shooting Sutch pulled the puck to his forehand with a toe-grab, and used the defenseman to screen Plymouth goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic enough for Sutch to let go of a rocket from the top circle, beating Nedeljkovic and giving Saginaw an early 1-0 lead at 2:15 of the first period. Just forty-one seconds later, Spirit veteran Eric Locke lit the red light for his twenty-forth goal of the season at 2:56 of the first period. Justin Kea (a Buffalo Sabres third round pick, 73 overall in the 2012 NHL draft) made it 3-0 for the Spirit; as he ended Nedeljkovic’s night early at 4:21 of the first period with his fourteenth tally of the season. Plymouth answered with two more goals in the opening period; but, Kea scored his second goal of the night (fifteenth of the season) with just forty-six seconds remaining in the opening period to give the Spirit a 4-2 lead after one period of play.
As good as the Spirit played in the first period Wednesday evening; they fell back on their heels and let Plymouth back into the game with two early second period goals. Sutch scored his second of the night in the second period, and the two teams traded goals in the third period; as Nick Moutrey scored his thirteenth goal of the season for the ultimate game-winning goal at 15:08 of the final period.
Spirit coach, Greg Gilbert continues to preach to his young players he wants to play a physical brand of hockey. He will settle for nothing less, and finally these young guys seem to be buying into what their coach has been preaching all year. “We weren’t sharp at the start of the second period, I don’t want to say we were in a daze, but we just weren’t sharp like we were in the first period,” said Gilbert. “We’ve got to keep taking the body, we’ve got to keep playing a physical game, an up-tempo game, and if we sit back and think it’s going to be an easy night, we are asking for trouble. You know, we got ourselves in trouble with our gaps tonight, and they made us pay for it; but, in the end –like I said- the guys with the Sweaters on their backs battled and eventually got it done.”
The Spirit will host their fourth-of-seven straight home games at the Dow Event Center Friday as the Erie Otters, and rookie sensation, Connor McDavid come to town for a 7:11 p.m. faceoff. The Spirit will then play host to the OHL’s top team, the London Knight’s on Saturday evening. Until then, we will be looking to see you down at the Dow…….