SAGINAW, MI — The Saginaw Spirit might be the happiest team you’ve seen following a loss.
Rival and defending division champion Sault Ste. Marie came into the Dow Event Center on Thursday, March 14 and handed Saginaw a 2-1 loss in overtime, but the overtime part made all the difference.
With the point, Saginaw improved to 45-15-3-3 with 96 points clinching the West Division championship.
“Did we want to win the game — yes,” Spirit coach Chris Lazary said. “But we’ve got a (Y) beside our name now, and we still have a chance to add the conference.”
With two games remaining, Saginaw has a chance to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs, but the Spirit have already secured just the second division crown in 17 years since the franchise relocated from North Bay.
“I’m most happy for the staff and the community,” Spirit owner Dick Garber said. “It’s incredible the season we’ve had and the job Chris Lazary has done. The kids have just worked so hard and played so well all year, and I think the best is yet to come.”
The Spirit have already set a series of new bests this season, with the opportunity to do something truly special.
The overtime loss ended a nine-game winning streak that was a franchise best, along with the 45 wins and 96 points. Both marks are new franchise records.
And even more impressive is the 34-6-2-2 record Saginaw has put together since Nov. 18 when Chris Lazary was promoted to head coach.
Saginaw showed glimpses out of the gate this season, but it wasn’t playing to its potential sitting several games back of the Greyhounds for the division lead. But Lazary made a few changes, while leaning on the already strong chemistry that existed in the room, turning Saginaw into a dominating hockey club.
“We were 12 points back at the coaching change,” Lazary said. “I said to the guys before that when we set out to accomplish something, we have the ability to do it. We just proved it. It was a hard mark to make up against the Soo down the stretch. It’s not like they were losing a lot of games. And 12 points is significant. We got it done, and we got it done on home ice.”
Saginaw closes out the season with a home game Saturday against London and a road rematch Sunday against Sault Ste. Marie.