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New additions helping Spirit soar

CHL

 

In 2002, the former North Bay Centennials uprooted from their home of 20 years, landing in Central Michigan under new ownership and a new moniker as the team became known as the Saginaw Spirit.

In the 17 seasons that have followed, the Spirit have had their share of success, counting 13 playoff appearances and two division titles, including the 2018-19 campaign in which the team finished first in the West Division with a franchise-record 96 points. That success has now followed through to the postseason, where the Spirit first handed the division-rival Sarnia Sting a four-game exit in the quarter-final before turning the tables on last year’s playoff foe versus the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the second round.

Leading the charge for the Spirit has been two fairly new faces in Florida Panthers first rounder Owen Tippett as well as Edmonton Oilers draft-pick Ryan McLeod, both of whom were added from the Mississauga Steelheads in the lead up to the 2019 playoffs. Through the first two rounds, Tippett stands atop the team with 17 points, a level of postseason production outpaced by only four players league-wide.

The transition to his new club has been an easier adjustment than most as it marked a reunion with McLeod who had been moved to the Spirit in a separate deal only two days prior.

“When it did happen, there was a lot of change happening at once but since I got settled in, it’s been unbelievable,” Tippett told Sportsnet’s Brad Coccimiglio. “The guys have been great and really welcoming. We’ve had team success, which has made it that much better.

“I was still away (at the world juniors) when (McLeod) got traded so it was kind of hard to believe that it was happening. That’s what made it a little easier to say ‘Yes’ and accept to go to Saginaw because there are so many familiar faces and you’re comfortable with the guys there.”

Teammates in Mississauga but rarely linemates, their new bench boss in Chris Lazary elected to pair the two together in Saginaw, with OHL rookie point-getter Cole Perfetti rounding out the trio. The early results have been explosive, with the two new faces combining for 15 points in six second-round games versus the Greyhounds. That stretch included a 10-1 romp in Game 2 in which McLeod finished with four points and Tippett had three of his own in their shining moment of the series.

As the team now readies for the Western Conference Final, where it will battle the Guelph Storm for the Wayne Gretzky Trophy and a franchise-first trip to the OHL Final, it’s an opportunity for both McLeod and Tippett to take another shot at the J. Ross Robertson Cup after falling in the finals just two years earlier while with Mississauga, and a chance to write the next chapter in what has been a storybook season for the Spirit.

The third round of the Ontario Hockey League postseason continues Monday when the Saginaw Spirit visit the Guelph Storm in Game 3. For complete OHL playoff preview coverage, click here.

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