SAGINAW, Mich. – It had been 26 years since the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup was earned on American soil. This year, the Cup was not only presented in the US, but it was presented to an American team from the Ontario Hockey League - for the first time.

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The Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit—host team for this year’s Memorial Cup—hoisted the trophy on Sunday after a 4-3 win over their foe of the season, the London Knights. Tied 3-3 in the 3rd period, Saginaw’s Josh Bloom slid the puck past Knights goaltender Michael Simpson to give the Spirit the lead with 22 seconds left in the game.

Saginaw and London split their regular season series, each earning victories in their two respective home games. London eliminated Saginaw from the OHL Playoffs in six games in the Western Conference Championship Series. The Knights also got the best of the Spirit with a 4-2 win in Memorial Cup round-robin play.

Saginaw happens to be where Minnesota Wild prospect Hunter Haight has spent the better part of two seasons. Haight, a 2022 NHL Draft 2nd Round Pick (47th overall), tallied 67 points (25-42=67) in 68 regular season games with the Spirit this season. He also notched 13 points (9-4=13) in the postseason.

Once the Memorial Cup celebrations settled down in Saginaw, caught up with Haight for a Q&A to reflect on his time at the tournament.

London Knights vs. Saginaw Spirit 6-2-24 0844 (1) For Wild fans who aren’t as familiar, how big of a deal is the Memorial Cup?

“The CHL is the top league in Canada for major junior hockey. The Memorial Cup is, you know, finding the champion amongst the champions. Each league--the WHL, the QMJHL, and the OHL all battle for their league championships. Then at the end of the season there's a tournament that includes the host (city) team. That was us and we came out on top. It was pretty cool.” Saginaw had a strong showing in round-robin play. Did that give you confidence going into that semi-final and then ultimately the final game?

“Heading into the Memorial Cup, we knew it was about us and focusing on what we needed to do. Getting that first-round-robin game by beating Moose Jaw and having such a strong start in that game was crucial. It really built our confidence moving forward. We played really well against Drummond. London got the best of us in the round-robin but, we stuck to our plan and it worked out.” Saginaw played London in that final game. What’s the Spirit’s history with London this season and what kind of rivalry developed there?

“We played them throughout the regular season: twice at home and twice on the road. We won all our games at home, and they won all their games at home. Then we ended up seeing them in the OHL Western Conference Final. They beat us in six games, so that was a big heartache for our group. They were two teams that had a lot of animosity between them.  We battled hard every night. They were really good games. Really talented teams on both ends of it.” What were the feelings like going into the Memorial Cup Final on Sunday?

“After having such a strong game in the semi-final against Moose Jaw, we came together collectively as a group and we were so fired up. So excited. It was all confidence going into the final. I mean, I'm sure there's a little—under the surface—some nervousness there being such a big game.” The Spirit went up three goals early. How were you guys able to find that momentum at the start?

“I would say our forecheck. It was something that (Head Coach Lazary) was really emphasizing throughout the Memorial Cup. Just establishing our forecheck early, being aggressive with our legs, moving them, on the track, and causing pressure to force turnovers. We weren't giving them time and space to make plays. We were causing turnovers to stay in their own zone.” What was the feeling on the Spirit bench when London comes back and ties up?

“Yeah, it's tough. It's tough in those moments to stay even keel. You try your best to not get too high and not get too low. Going into the third period, we knew there was going to be a pushback.  They're the London Knights--a championship team--and they're there for a reason. So, you know, we were expecting a comeback. We probably weren't ready for it and gripping the stick a little tight there in the third. You basically try to put it out of the way and focus on what you need to do. Your next shift, your next job. What's going on in the moment because they score those goals and that's now in the past. You have seven minutes left in the third to get a job done.” The last two minutes of that game were intense. Give us your view on the game-winner with 20 seconds left on the clock.

“I was playing center that game and throughout the Memorial Cup. Then Coach came down to me in that last minute and whispered in my ear that I was going on right wing with [Owen] Beck and [Josh] Bloom. You know, I was ready for it. We went out there, had o-zone pressure going. Then a couple of shots were blocked, and the puck came out of the zone. We were lucky enough to have Jorian Donovan pick off that chip out from the cube. Then he just shot the puck on net and the chaos ensued. Bloomer was there to put it in. It was a crazy moment. The roof was going to blow off that building. It was pretty special” Is switching positions something you're used to?

“Throughout the playoffs I was actually playing wing. I was playing with Beck and Bloom. I was a right winger for a majority of playoffs. Even for a few games at the end of the regular season as well, which was awesome. It was actually something that I'm glad happened because, you know, I’m not guaranteed to play center at the next level. The ability to be able to play wing is huge for me. It’s something that I got used to and something I understand in terms of a different position. A different side of the game.”  Does it help to not only switch like that, but to see another position from that perspective?

“Yeah, you expand on your knowledge, right? Hockey is all about learning, adapting, and having fun. Learning how to play wing, positionally as a center, I know where my wing is going to be or where he should be or what his job is so that I can do mine. We can all build and work off each other. I learned a lot playing wing.” What's the feeling like when that final horn sounds and you're there celebrating with all your teammates?

“I don't even know if I can describe it. It was incredible. Chills, tingles, everything. Everything came together. There's so much love in that locker room and amongst that group of guys, you know, I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else. It was unbelievable.” Obviously, winning the OHL would've been a nice thing to add on to the season, but could you have written a better script for how it ended?

“Honestly, I think that's the way it was meant to be written. I mean, the story finished itself on the best note possible, and in the coolest way. To do it against London--the team that put you out in your playoffs--is pretty, pretty cool.” We saw a pic of you holding that cup up in the air. What’s that feeling like?

“Honestly, it’s a surreal feeling. I remember picking it up and handing it to the next guy. I was just so happy. So excited. So proud of everyone who's a part of the Saginaw Spirit and our season. Friends and family are running through your mind in those moments. The people that support you. It was really cool.” What happens after you get done celebrating on Sunday night? We know there was a championship parade in Saginaw on Monday.

“We’ve been hanging out as a group and spending time with the trophy. We took more pictures, hung out by the pool. Just enjoyed ourselves. Today we're going golfing. That’s going to be a nice little thing to do before wrap up here and head home for the summer.” Have you had the chance to look back and see how you have grown throughout the season?

“I haven't looked too in-depth on my year in terms of that. I would say that progressively over the year my defensive game, my awareness in terms of d-zone structure, and my firmness at the puck and in battles has greatly increased. Throughout the season I got a lot better in faceoffs and as a centerman, that's crucial. I thought I was very good in the Memorial Cup in terms of doing my job as a centerman to win those draws. Overall, I think I need to keep getting stronger, keep getting faster, and things will take care of itself from there.” You're a young guy. You've got a big career ahead of you. Does having some of that championship pedigree in your blood now make you thirsty to have that feeling again?

Yeah, very much so. That's why we play the game of hockey. There's no better feeling than what we just experienced as a group and to do it with people that you love and cherish. Friendships that are, you know, going to last forever. There's no better feeling.”

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Hunter plans to spend the summer in his hometown of Strathroy, Ontario. Other than some cottage and lake time with the family, he says he’ll continue to keep training and working out to get ready for the next chapter of his career. He’ll also be in Minnesota for the Development Camp next month.

Photos Courtesy of the Canadian Hockey League