SPIRIT HANG TOUGH; LOSE SEASON FINALE TO MEMORIAL CUP HOST WINDSOR, 4-3
Edmonton Oiler prospect Markus Niemelainen scores twice
SAGINAW, Mich. – On Saturday night, the Saginaw Spirit hit the ice for the final time of the 2016-17 season. The Windsor Spitfires would be the Spirit’s last opponent. In front of a record-breaking gate at The Dow Event Center, the Spirit continued to fight back against the 2017 MasterCard Memorial Cup Host, but could not tally the equalizer in the final seconds.
The Spitfires got on the board first when Aaron Luchuk recorded his 27th goal of the year shorthanded at 7:30 of the period. C.J. Garcia took a slap shot from the blue line, and the rebound bounced to Daniel Robertson who was in front of the net. Robertson looked up-ice and made a long pass to Aaron Luchuk on the breakaway. Luchuk shot a laser over Evan Cormier’s left glove for the 1-0 lead.
C.J. Garcia tied the game up, 1-1, at 14:59 with his sixth goal of the year. Damien Giroux collected the puck near the trapezoid area behind the net, and made a pass to Hayden Davis at the blue line. Davis quickly swung the puck around to Garcia who attempted to pass it back to Giroux in the slot. However, the puck deflected off of Austin McEneny’s right knee as he tried to make a play on it. The puck landed in the net before Michael DiPietro realized what had happened.
A turnover in the Saginaw zone allowed Luke Boka to collect the puck near the left board and skate behind the net. He circled back and passed it to Sean Day near the blue line. Day let off a shot that was deflected by Cristiano DiGiacinto for his 13th goal.
At 14:53 of the second period, Aaron Luchuk added his second goal of the game. The puck was dumped into the Saginaw zone by Graham Knott. Evan Cormier couldn’t control the puck, and it slipped past him to Jeremy Bracco who was near the right circle. Bracco made a quick centering pass to Luchuk who tapped it past Cormier’s right leg for the 3-1 lead.
90 seconds later, the Spirit pulled to within one goal when Markus Niemelainen scored his second goal of the year. C.J. Garcia had possession of the puck near the blue line when he passed it to Brady Gilmour near the left circle. Gilmour made the quick pass to Niemelainen who took the one-time shot from the heart of the right circle to make the score, 3-2.
Windsor added a goal just 24 seconds into the third period to make the score, 4-2. Graham Knott intercepted a pass in the Saginaw zone, and shoveled it over to Jeremy Bracco. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect was camped in front of the net when he tapped in the puck for his 25th goal of the season.
Two minutes later, the Spirit again pulled to within a goal when Markus Niemelainen again lit up the goal light. Cole Coskey picked up the puck near the right board, and made a pass to Max Grondin who was in the slot. Grondin turned around and passed it to Niemelainen who shot it from the top of the left circle. The rubber saucer sailed over Mario Culina’s left shoulder to make the score 4-3. Unfortunately the Spirit couldn’t capitalize on their numerous opportunities the rest of the way, and the score remained 4-3.
Applebee’s Three Stars of the Game:
- Aaron Luchuk (WSR) – 2 G, SHG
- Markus Niemelainen (SAG) – 2 G
- C.J. Garcia (SAG) – G, A
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