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Preview: Spirit, Knights clash in a battle of Western Conference titans

London, ON – With the OHL Trade Deadline passed on Thursday, the Saginaw Spirit are ready for their recent acquisitions to make a huge splash in the run for the West Division title.

 

That objective is certainly trending in the right direction following seven straight wins to begin the regular-season’s second half, including Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs at The Dow Event Center.

 

The Spirit continue to lessen the divide between themselves and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for the division lead, as only one point separates the two juggernauts.

 

Behind a pair of superb outings in net from Ivan Prosvetov and the offensive impact provided by Ryan McLeod and Owen Tippett, Sagianaw has secured a 21 of a possible 22 points in the last 10 games.

 

The Spirit have also climbed to an honorable mention in the latest Kia CHL Top 10 Rankings after reaching number nine back in Week 5.

 

Before the Spirit begin another three-game home stand this Saturday, they’ll visit the Budweiser Gardens tonight for what should be their toughest matchup throughout this historic run.

 

Puck drop between Saginaw and the London Knights is set for 7:30 p.m. in the first-of-four meetings this year.

 

Broadcast, Watch Party & Ticket Info 

 

Listen live the flagship WSGW 100.5 FM Talk & Sports and fmtalk1005.com with Joey Battaino and Dennis Desrosiers. Pre-game coverage starts at 7:15 p.m.

 

Fans can visit the Buffalo Wild Wings location at 2690 Tittabawassee Road in Saginaw and join the official “Watch Party” for all Spirit away games. Admission is free of charge.

 

To purchase your tickets for all Saginaw home games, call (989) 497-7747, visit saginawspirit.com, or by visiting the Saginaw Spirit Store at 5789 State Street, Saginaw, MI.

 

Last Time Out

 

The win on Wednesday over the reigning J. Ross Robertson Cup champions brings the Spirit (54) to within three points of the Knights (57) for the top spot in the OHL Western Conference standings.

 

Jake Goldowski, Bode Wilde and Justin Murray each scored on the Bulldogs to lift Saginaw’s overall record to 25 wins, 11 losses, two overtime losses and two shootout losses this season.

 

Despite his 80-plus minute run without a goal allowed, Prosvetov made 26 saves to take sole possession of second place for most wins (21) by an OHL goaltender. The Moscow native leads the league in shutouts with three.

 

Since head coach Chris Lazary took over on November 22, the Spirit have gone 15-2-1-1.

 

Spirit Standouts

 

Prosvetov, drafted in the fourth round (114th overall) by the Arizona Coyotes in this year’s NHL Draft, hasn’t endured a loss in each of his last nine starts dating back to December 9.

 

On January 6, in Saginaw’s 2-1 home win over the Sudbury Wolves, Prosvetov picked up his third shutout after stopping 54 shots. The 2018 CHL Import Draft first rounder has a goals against average (GAA) of 2.99 with a 0.904 save percentage (SAV%) through 31 appearances.

 

McLeod and Tippett, who came over from the Mississauga Steelheads via trade this past weekend, made their debuts for the Spirit in time for wins over the Kitchener Rangers and Sudbury.

 

Tippett, who’s already signed with the Florida Panthers after being drafted by the Miami metropolitan-based club with the 10th overall pick in 2017, and McLeod, taken in the second round (40th overall) by the Edmonton Oilers, have combined for two goals and five assists in three games.

 

McLeod is second on the team in assists (29) and points (42) while Tippett was held to without a point in just four of his first 20 games this season with Mississauga, before leaving the team on December 7 for the IIHF World Junior Championship.

 

Another transformative dealing made by general manager Dave Drinkill before the deadline was acquiring Murray, the former Barrie Colts captain, to bolster the depth on the backend.

 

Murray scored his first goal as a member of the Spirit against Hamilton into an empty net. The overager was named the captain of Barrie before the start of the 2017-18 season, recording five assists since the trade on December 9.

 

Receiving OHL Defenseman of the Month honors for December, Wilde is one-of-two Spirit players alongside Tippett to have already signed entry-level contracts with an NHL franchise.

 

Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2018, Wilde currently ranks in the top-five for most goals (11), assists (31) and points (42) among league blueliners.

 

Currently leading the team in goals (21) and points (47) is 19-year-old forward Cole Coskey, who recently had his 10-game point streak snapped against the Wolves.

 

During that run, the Zion, Illinois, native notched 11 goals and 11 assists, including three goals and three assists on January 2 en route to Saginaw’s second straight Coors Light I-75 Divide Cup title and fifth consecutive win over the Flint Firebirds.

 

On special teams, Wilde’s goal on Wednesday would be on the power play to keep the Spirit intact with the league’s sixth-best man-up unit on 34 goals for a 24.8 percent success rate this season. The penalty kill is ranked third overall with 25 goals allowed for an 81.6 percent success rate.

 

London Scouting Report

 

With the second-most points in the league behind only the Ottawa 67’s, London holds the title for being the only club in the Western Conference through the early-part of January to remain under double-digit regulation losses.

 

The Knights saw their eight-game point streak collapse on Tuesday in a 7-5 home loss to the Guelph Storm. At 26 win, six losses, four overtime losses and one shootout loss, London also has the second-most total goals scored among all Western Conference teams with 168.

 

Before the trade deadline, the Knights made three separates moves in a span of 24 hours with the Owen Sound Attack, Flint Firebirds and Erie Otters, moving forwards Emmet Pierce and Sergey Popov, as well as defenseman Jacob Golden, for four OHL Priority Selection picks.

 

Those three dealings came less than a week after London acquired two more draft picks and a defenseman for two players in trades with the Colts and Attack.

 

Playing in two games for London since arriving in the first trade with Owen Sound, overage forward Kevin Hancock sits third in league scoring, netting 31 goals and totaling 62 points in 37 games this season.

 

2017 Priority Selection first round (11th overall) draft pick Connor McMichael is second on the team in goals (25), assists (21) and points (46). The 17-year-old forward is considered to be a first round prospect in next year’s NHL Draft.

 

Forwards Nathan Dunkley, Cole Tymkin and Liam Foudy have combined for 50 goals, 53 assists and 103 points and are currently rank third, fourth and fifth in points for London, respectively. Foudy was picked up in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the 18th overall pick.

 

2018 Vancouver Canucks goaltending prospect Jordan Kooy and overager Joseph Raaymakers have split time in net this season, with Raaymakers making 23 appearances and averaging nearly 30 saves a game.

 

At 18 years old and having the fifth-best save percentage (SAV%) among OHL goalies at 0.914, Kooy would be selected in the seventh round by the Canucks.

 

On special teams, London is ranked first in the OHL on the penalty kill this season with 20 goals allowed for a 86.9 percent success rate. The Knights have the 10th best man-up unit with 30 goals scored for a 21.6 percent success rate.

 

Featured NHL Prospects

 

There will be a combined 17 players on the ice Saturday with their rights owned by NHL teams. For the Knights, it’ll be Kooy (Vancouver), Foudy (Columbus), Paul Cotter (Vegas), Alex Formenton (Ottawa), Evan Bouchard (Edmonton), Adam Boqvist (Chicago), Joey Keane (NY Rangers), Jacob Golden (Minnesota) and Alec Regula (Detroit).

 

Defenseman Reilly Webb (Detroit), captain Damien Giroux (Minnesota), forwards Brady Gilmour (Detroit) and Blade Jenkins (NY Islander), McLeod (Edmonton), Tippett (Florida), Prosvetov (Arizona) and Wilde (NY Islanders) will represent Saginaw.

 

Looking Ahead 

 

Saginaw’s three-game home stand starts January 12, hosting the Windsor Spitfires at The Dow Event Center in the sixth regular-season meeting between the two West Division rivals. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m.

 

Saturday is the first annual “Love Shouldn’t Hurt” Game, as Underground Railroad, Inc., Bay Area Women’s Center and Shelterhouse have partnered with the Spirit to help bring an end to domestic violence in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

 

$13.00 upper level fundraising tickets are available for purchase with $5 of each ticket sold will help support victims of domestic violence.

 

Windsor has won four straight games since January 3, recently taking a 4-3 decision on the road Thursday against the Flint Firebirds. 19-year-old forward Cole Purboo leads the team in goals (19) and points (35).

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