These are exciting times in Saginaw.
The Spirit, who haven’t won an OHL Playoff round since 2012, are currently one point out of first place in the West Division and are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak.
What’s more, Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill recently acquired two of the OHL’s premier forwards in the Mississauga Steelheads duo of Ryan McLeod (13-28–41) and Owen Tippett (20-15–35) who joined the lineup for wins over Kitchener and Sudbury this past weekend.
Saginaw climbs to an honourable mention in the latest Kia CHL Top 10 Rankings after reaching number nine back in Week 5. They’ve excelled in all facets with a 24-11-2-2 record to go with the OHL’s fifth-ranked power play (24.4%) and fourth-ranked penalty kill (81.2%).
“I think there’s a quiet confidence in our group,” said Spirit head coach Chris Lazary who has steered the club to a 13-2-1-1 record since taking the reins from Troy Smith on Nov. 18th.
“We’re going to have our challenges moving forward to make sure we’re playing the right way and we’re trying to get better everyday and not just trying to get by on our skill, but we’re loose because we’re having fun, we’re winning and we expect to win.”
While the additions of McLeod and Tippett brought a buzz to the Dow Event Center, Arizona Coyotes prospect Ivan Prosvetov is Saginaw’s latest hero. The eccentric Russian netminder celebrated Sunday’s 54-save shutout of the Sudbury Wolves with his signature centre ice cartwheels post-game.
The 54 saves are the most in a shutout by an OHL goaltender since Sudbury’s Alain Valiquette stopped 57 back in March of 2011.
With wins in 10 of their last 11 games, the Spirit have leaned on 19-year-old winger Cole Coskey (21-26–47) who leads the team statistically while OHL Defenceman of the Month Bode Wilde (10-31–41) has been a valued first-year addition to the blue line. Fellow New York Islanders prospect Blade Jenkins (17-21–38), overage Czech winger Albert Michnac (12-25–37), hard-working captain Damien Giroux (16-12–28) and rookie standout Cole Perfetti (16-17–33) have also been central to the team’s success.
With his team riding a wave of momentum, GM Drinkill took the opportunity to throw fuel on the fire with the additions of McLeod and Tippett and made it clear that the Spirit are all in this year.
“We don’t acquire guys like Ryan McLeod to get to the second round, we bring in guys like that to try and win a championship,” he said.
“We’re on a mission,” Lazary added. “I have no problem saying that our mission is to win the West Division.”
The Spirit, who also added veteran defender Justin Murray following the unexpected graduation of captain Keaton Middleton earlier this season, are coming on strong in their quest for the West. They’ve closed the gap on the Soo Greyhounds who have won four of the past five division titles. The Spirit are in search of their first since 2011 when a club led by Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Saad went 40-22-4-2, reaching the second round of the OHL Playoffs.
The second-least penalized team in the OHL, the Spirit look to continue their march up the standings this week when the defending champion Hamilton Bulldogs visit the Dow Event Center on Wednesday. Saginaw faces a good test with a visit to London on Friday before returning home to take on the Windsor Spitfires Saturday night.
The KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight takes a closer look at one team from the weekly KIA CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Past KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight editions:
Sept. 26, 2018 – Halifax Mooseheads
Oct. 4, 2018 – London Knights
Oct. 11, 2018 – Victoria Royals
Oct. 18, 2018 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Oct. 25, 2018 – Prince Albert Raiders
Nov. 1, 2018 – Ottawa 67’s
Nov. 8, 2018 – Moncton Wildcats
Nov. 15, 2018 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Nov. 22, 2018 – Red Deer Rebels
Nov. 29, 2018 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Dec. 6, 2018 – Vancouver Giants
Dec. 12, 2018 – Everett Silvertips
Dec. 20, 2018 – Niagara IceDogs
Jan. 3, 2019 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds