SAGINAW, MI — The Saginaw Spirit have experienced a lot of firsts during this, their most successful season in franchise history. And with each step, more records and marks are rewritten.
However, that doesn’t mean they’ve become content. Quite the opposite in fact.
With a convincing 7-2 win over the visiting Guelph Storm in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Saginaw announced its intention to make a run at more.
“Every single day we win a hockey game or win a series, it’s another day we get to stay together as a group,” said Spirit coach Chris Lazary in a conference call prior to Game 1. “We love coaching this group, and our players love playing with each other. We’re fighting every day for a chance to keep on playing together.”
This season, the Spirit have already thrown away a 17-year history of almosts and what-ifs and fully embraced the culture of why not?
A series of trades brought savvy and experience on the blueline with overagers Justin Murray and Reegan O’Grady, while deadline deals bringing Florida Panthers prospect Owen Tippett and Edmonton Oilers prospect Ryan McLeod brought point production and playoff experience.
They worked out perfectly on the ice and in the dressing room.
Saginaw gelled together as a group off the ice, which turned into the organization’s second West Division championship in its history on the ice. And they’ve answered the bell each time in the postseason
In a physical, punishing series against Sarnia, the Spirit answered with a quick strike and clutch offense. And that offense rolled through the first three games of the conference semifinals against the rival Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, while goalie Ivan Prosvetov answered the bell in Game 6 with a 34-save shutout to send Saginaw past the second round for the first time in franchise history.
“We are over the moon happy for our fans,” Spirit President and Managing Partner Craig Goslin said. “This is an exciting time for us. As a community, we’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into the Saginaw Spirit project. It’s so gratifying to see the smiles on the faces inside the Dow Event Center, and to walk by and shake their hands for their support over the last 17 years.”
After finding out who and when the Spirit would play in the conference finals, they had just two days to sell tickets. Yet, more than 4,200 fans flocked to the Dow.
Home attendance was 13,163 in three games against the Greyhounds and 9,231 in two home games against the Sting.
“It’s definitely an exciting time,” Spirit captain Damien Giroux said. “I think all the players are excited. For most of these players, it’s the first time ever winning a playoff game. It’s a thrilling moment.”
And one the Spirit aren’t taking for granted.
Despite a 1-0 lead against Guelph — OHL champions in 1998, 2004 and 2014 — there’s still a long way to go. The Storm became just the fifth team in Ontario Hockey League history to advance after falling in a 3-0 hole in a best-of-seven playoff series by defeating top-ranked London in four straight games.
“If you’re a hockey fan, you’re going to love this series,” Lazary said.
The series continues Saturday, April 20 at the Dow Event Center before heading to Guelph for Games 3 and 4.