The Saginaw Spirit (21-11-2-2) are now guaranteed at least a share of this year's Coors Light I-75 Divide Cup Series trophy after winning the fourth straight matchup (of eight total meetings this year) with a 5-0 shutout victory over in-state rivals the Flint Firebirds in front of 4,035 at the Dow Event Center in downtown Saginaw tonight.
With the win, the Spirit now have a 10-2-1-1 record since former Saginaw assistant Chris Lazary was promoted to head coach back on Nov. 18, some 42-days ago. Lazary attributes the turnaround to the close, family-like atmosphere which the Spirit players have developed inside the dressing room.
“I'm proud of our guys,” A beaming coach Lazary said of his tight-knit group. “The one strength we have as a team, and I've been saying this a lot lately, is that our guys are so tight. They really do care about each other, and they play for each other and you can see it even when a guy makes a mistake, the communication on the bench is very positive and they're staying together.
“I believe, when you have a tight team like that and that's your culture, that is what get's you through hard wins. We're talented and we're good, but we are also really tight, and that's why you see us blocking shots and doing everything for each other.”
Saginaw rookie goal tender Tristan Lennox was named the starter between the pipes for the Spirit today and the 16-year old was brilliant, turning away all 23 shots he would face for his first career Ontario Hockey League shutout.
With only a handful of OHL starts under his belt, the 6-foot-2 Mississauga native says he tries to focus more on getting the victory for his team than dwelling on his own achievements, however, he does admit this personal accomplishment feels pretty nice.
“It's an awesome feeling,” Lennox said after his first career OHL shutout. “It's something I'm sure I will remember for the rest of my life. It's obviously a huge milestone in my career, but I think I go into games thinking more about wanting to win, as opposed to worrying about personal stats, but it's a great accomplishment.”
The Spirit would take the early lead when the red-hot Blade Jenkins (15) scored the first of his two goals tonight, beating Flint goal tender Emanuel Vella with an unassisted goal for a 1-0 Saginaw lead at 7:10 of the opening period, a lead which the Spirit would carry into the first intermission after out-shooting Flint by a whopping 18-6 margin throughout the first 20-minutes.
Saginaw pulled away in the middle frame when Spirit captain Damien Giroux (16) capitalized on a Flint penalty, scoring a power play goal with assists from Bode Wilde and Cole Coskey to take a 2-0 lead at 10:24 of the second, before Saginaw forward D.J. Busdeker added to the lead just 46-seconds later, scoring his sixth of the season from Brady Gilmour and Reagan O'Grady for a 3-0 Spirit lead at the 11:10 mark.
Spirit forward Cole Coskey (17) was awarded a penalty shot late in the final frame, where he beat Vella (stickside high) with a wrist shot for his seventeenth goal of the season, extending the Spirit lead to 4-0 at 15:02 of the third period, while Jenkins (16) followed with his second tally of the game with assists coming from Albert Michnac and Cole Perfetti for a 5-0 lead at the 16:46 mark.
Lazary loves the chemistry this Spirit team has developed and admits he's having a blast coaching this group.
“It's fun to come to work as a coach in that type of environment” Lazary said. “I've been a part of team's that aren't tight like this and sometimes it's not that fun, but this has been probably the most fun I've ever had in hockey.”
Lazary and the Spirit will only have to wait a few days for a chance to capture the team's second straight Coors Light I-75 Divide Cup Series when the Spirit head south down I-75 for a 7 pm face off against the Firebirds at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint, MI on Wednesday night. With only eight total meetings on the schedule between the two in-state rivals this year, the Spirit (who have won the first four meetings) can capture the series with it's fifth victory over Flint.
Video of Cole Coskey's penalty shot goal against the Flint Firebirds tonight: