Buckle up for Hounds vs. Spirit
by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies
Sure it’s only late November.
But when the Soo Greyhounds and Saginaw Spirit square off this week – twice – playoff drama will likely weave its way through every scoring chance, every save and every puck battle.
“These are the games you mark on your calendar. Before you play, you have a little extra jump when you wake up from your pre-game nap,” said Hounds winger Jack Beck, whose club is set to visit Saginaw on Wednesday (7:05 p.m.), before the teams meet again on Friday (7:07 p.m.) in the Sault. “You have butterflies in your stomach and you’re ready to go.”
“We’re really excited and it’ll be fun to see how we measure up,” added centre Owen Allard, whose team leads the OHL’s West Division with a 15-7-2-0 mark, good for 32 points.
Winners of 10 straight, Saginaw is second with 29 points, the result of a 14-7-0-1 record. The Spirit, preparing to play host to next spring’s Memorial Cup, has two games in hand on the Soo.
“These are big games, four-point games,” added Allard, whose club edged the Spirit 5-4 in a shootout on Oct. 27 in Saginaw.
“If we play our game, we’ll have a really-good chance to end their winning streak.”
While Saginaw is the hottest team in the league, the Greyhounds are fresh from an impressive – and lengthy – road trip that saw them take five of a possible six points. After losing in overtime in Erie, the Soo whipped Brantford 8-2 before stopping Mississauga 5-2 on Sunday afternoon.
The Soo players didn’t return home until roughly 3 a.m. Monday. They’re slated to get back on the road again Wednesday morning, heading down I-75 to Dow Event Center.
Head coach John Dean spoke of how the recent travel his team has faced is “clearly an advantage for Saginaw.”
But Beck said he doesn’t think fatigue will be a factor for a club that is 9-4-1-0 away from GFL Memorial Gardens.
“This is a big test for us, but I think when we play Greyhounds hockey we’re the best team in the league,” added the overage, who leads his team in scoring with an 8-20-28 stat line. “That’s playing fast, with skill, playing in-your-face hockey. We need to stay above pucks and be tenacious.”
Allard also expressed confidence in the Hounds ability.
“For sure, I think we’re the best team in the league,” said the veteran centre, fourth in team scoring with a 12-11-23 stat line.
The Ottawa native also leads the club in plus-minus with a plus-15.
Asked what he believes are the keys to success this week, Allard echoed Beck’s comments about the importance of speed and skill.
“When we play like that, I don’t think any team in the league can handle us,” he added. “Whenever we skate as well as we do, when all four lines are rolling, we’re really hard to beat. It’s difficult for teams to deal with that.”
Saginaw comes into Wednesday’s clash as the OHL’s top team in both power-play and penalty-killing efficiency.
The Greyhounds are No. 6 in the league with the man advantage and second on the PK. They’ve also scored six short-handed goals, including three in their last two games.
For the Spirit “to win 10 straight is no easy feat,” said Dean. “They have a high-level offence, love to maintain possession of the puck, they’re constantly challenging you and forcing you to defend. They’re a very good hockey club. But we think we’re an exceptional team in our own right. It should make for a heck of a matchup.”