DETROIT – The third time was not the charm for the Saginaw Spirit.
After falling to Windsor twice in the past nine days, Saginaw dropped its third straight Ontario Hockey League game to the Spitfires Sunday, losing 6-5 under the lights at Comerica Park.
“The boys were really happy to get the win,” said Windsor forward Josh Ho-Sang. “It was a great experience, everything that went into it. New jerseys, bigger crow, it was awesome. We had a little bit of a delay, but that only added to the excitement. We were looking forward to it and I’m glad we got the two points.”
The inaugural outdoor OHL game got off to a late start, as it was one of the few ballpark games to endure a two-hour delay due to an abundance of sunshine durng the Hockeytown Winter Festival.
“It was the right call,” Windsor coach Bob Boughner said. “I went out there on the ice for the team photo for our supposed warm-up and I don’t think you could have played – the goaltenders especially, but everybody was squinting.”
The game was a shootout once the puck dropped, as the Spirit led 3-1 early in the second period, but Windsor scored four unanswered goals over the next 6 ½ minutes to take a commanding two-goal lead. Saginaw wouldn’t go down without a fight, however, as the Spirit tied the game down the stretch, but gave up a shorthanded goal with five minutes left in the game that sealed the victory for the Spitfires.
“The first period there were a lot of adjustments for both teams, trying to acclimate and figure out the bounces off the glass and the boards,” Boughner said. “After a while, into the second period, I think we all settled down and played our game, like any other game.”
Saginaw lost its top goal-scorer seconds after Ben Johnson gave Windsor a 1-0 lead in the first period, when Cody Payne came off the bench to fight Ty Bilcke. Both players received five minute fighting penalties and Payne received a game misconduct penalty for his part. Payne leads the Spirit with 15 goals in 30 games.
After goals by Eric Locke and Daniel De Sousa gave Saginaw a 2-1 lead in the opening period, Windsor replaced starting goalie Alex Fotinos with backup Dalen Kuchmey at the start of the middle period. The change didn’t initially alleviate the Spitfires’ woes, though, as Jeremiah Addison scored his second goal of the season just under two minutes into the second to give Saginaw a 3-1 lead.
But the rest of the period belonged to Windsor, as the Spitfires scored four unanswered goals to take a 5-3 lead. Cristiano DiGiacinto, Slater Koekkoek, Remy Giftopoulos and Brody Milne all notched goals in the second period, while Brady Vail assisted on three of those four goals.
“We gave it to them right on a silver platter like we’ve been doing for the last four weeks,” Saginaw coach Greg Gilbert said. “Turnover after turnover, at our blue line, their blue line and when you do that you get on the defensive and on your heels and they came at us and took it to us. It’s a credit to them for making us pay for our mistakes, but those silly mistakes shouldn’t happen.”
Saginaw stormed back in the third period, though, as Patrick Sanvido and Brandon Prophet scored two power-play goals five minutes apart to tie the game 5-5. But despite back-to-back four minute power plays and two 5-on-3 opportunities, the Spirit were unable to score again, and gave up a shorthanded goal with just over five minutes left in the game that cemented the victory for Windsor.
“It was unbelievable,” Steven Janes said of his shorthanded, game-winning goal at Comerica Park. “Can’t really put it into words, it’s nothing I’ve ever had in five years that’s for sure it was good to take in.”
The contest was the first of two OHL matchups as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival and the first outdoor OHL game, an opportunity both teams were excited to be part of.
“What an experience,” Bilcke said. “Playing in front of 25,000 fans and the view, sitting on the bench and looking at the whole stadium, it was just a surreal experience. We’re going down in history as the first OHL game outdoors. I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless.
“Before going off the ice, I kind of just stepped back. I just wanted to stay on the ice for another minute and look around, take it all in, because I don’t know when I’m ever going to see that again. It’s hard to pick one thing and the memory I’ll take with me. What an experience.”
The Spirit was without top goaltender and Red Wings prospect Jake Paterson, who is currently with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships in Sweden. In 22 games with Saginaw this season, Paterson has posted an 11-9-2 record.