By Matthew Wesolowski
Saginaw, Mich. – The Saginaw Spirit (24-14-2-0) were unable to best the Kitchener Rangers (16-18-2-0) despite a late goal and lost 4-3 Sunday, January 15, at the Dow Event Center.
Michael Misa earned two assists and Hunter Haight scored a goal and an assist for Saginaw. Tristan Lennox made 32 saves on 36 shots for the Spirit. Reid Valade scored two goals and Hunter Brzustewicz earned two assists for Kitchener. Marcus Vandenberg earned a win for the Rangers by stopping 34 of 37.
The game started with Kitchener controlling play and holding a 7-1 lead in shots through the first eight minutes.
Both teams went down a skater after Kitchener was called for too many men on the ice at 8:41 and Roberto Mancini took an interference penalty at 8:48 in the first period. The Spirit used open ice to their advantage and struck first at 9:06. Michael Misa started the play by getting PJ Forgione the puck between the circles. The defensemen then sent a backhand pass to Hunter Haight on his left. The Minnesota Wild prospect ripped a shot past Vandenberg for his 11th goal of the season.
Shortly after Kitchener’s penalty expired, the Rangers evened up the game at 10:44 in the opening frame. Matthew Sop skated into the zone on the left and gave Roman Schmidt the puck. From there, the defensemen sent a one-timer pass to Reid Valade and he put the puck past Lennox’s stick for his 16th goal of the season.
Dean Loukus committed a hooking penalty at 16:32 in the opening period, giving the Rangers a powerplay chance. Saginaw was able to kill off the chance with the help of Lennox.
Kitchener took the lead at 18:56 in the first frame courtesy of Reid Valade. The forward scored an unassisted goal after he skated in and fired a shot over Lennox’s glove for his second goal of the game.
At the end of the first period, the Rangers had a 14-6 shot advantage and a 2-1 lead of the game.
The second period opened with Saginaw on the powerplay after Francesco Pinelli elbowed James Guo at 4:25. The Spirit converted on the chance just ten seconds later at 4:35. Dean Loukus got Roberto Mancini the puck on the stick side of Vandenberg. The defensemen found Matyas Sapovaliv out front, and the World Junior silver medalist potted his 12th goal of the season to tie the game at two apiece.
Luke McNamara was called for tripping at 9:14 in the middle period, giving Kitchener a man-advantage. The Spirit were able to stop the Rangers from scoring on the chance.
After Ian Phillips hit a Ranger from behind, he and Francesco Pinelli dropped the gloves at open ice. Phillips was ejected from the game for the hit, and Pinelli picked up the instigator.
Danny Zhilkin scored late in the second period on a flukey goal. After Tristan Lennox stopped him on a breakaway, he threw the puck back into the goaltender’s feet from behind the net. His 15th goal of the season gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead.
The second period ended with the Rangers ahead 3-2 and holding a 27-20 shot advantage.
The third period opened with Saginaw on the man-advantage after Francesco Arcuri took a hooking penalty 75 seconds in. The rangers killed off the chance successfully.
Kitchener added to their lead at 5:37 in the third frame. Lleyton Moore gave the puck to Hunter Brzustewicz on his right. The defensemen shot a quick pass to Mitchell Martin who shot over Lennox for his eighth of the season.
With time running out, Lennox was called to the bench with a bit more than two minutes remaining in the game. The Spirit used the extra attacker to close the gap to one at 18:03 in the final period. Michael Misa got the puck to Hunter Haight on the left of the zone where he ripped a shot towards the net. Vandenberg was able to block the shot, but Zayne Parekh recovered the rebound on the right and netted his 13th goal of the season.
Despite a 37-36 shot advantage, the Spirit were unable to find another goal and fell 4-3 at the end of 60 minutes. With the loss, Saginaw is now 24-14-2-0 on the season.
Saginaw heads on the road Wednesday, January 18, as they face off against the Soo Greyhounds at the GFL Memorial Gardens. Puck drop is at 7:07 p.m.