Charlie and Bryce make everything nice
by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo courtesy of Natalie Shaver (OHLImages)
Charlie Schenkel snared pucks on Wednesday the way a vacuum cleaner swallows bread crumbs.
The veteran goaltender played brilliantly, and Bryce McConnell Barker scored twice, including the winner, as the Hounds stopped the Saginaw Spirit 4-3 in front of 2,337 at Dow Event Center.
In the first of a home-and-home series which continues Friday in the Sault (7:07 p.m.), the Greyhounds, despite getting out-played, employed guts and determination to snap their rivals 10-game winning streak.
“Fantastic. That’s what we know we can get from Charlie,” said head coach John Dean, whose club had just completed its longest road trip of the season on Sunday, before returning home and travelling to Saginaw on Wednesday. “That was probably his most complete 60 minutes for sure this season. Charlie gave us an opportunity to stay in that hockey game and win it after a really, really difficult road trip.”
“That game was lights out his best performance of the season,” added winger Brenden Sirizzotti, who contributed a goal and an assist. “We weren’t as sharp as we want to be, but Schenky stepped up huge. He stood on his head. He was making back-door saves on shots that should go in.”
Knowing his team was likely fatigued, Schenkel spoke of how he was determined to rise up for those in front of him.
“I wanted to give the boys a jump and do everything I could to get us a win,” said Schenkel, who made arguably six 10-bell saves in a scoreless first period. “That was a lot of fun. The boys were battling in front of me, blocking shots and putting their bodies on the line. We’re competing for each other.”
The Soo was outshot 14-7 in the opening frame and 38-21 overall.
In the third period, just 1:11 after Sault native Calem Mangone lifted the Spirit into a 3-3 tie, McConnell-Barker showed off his ability to shoot the puck.
On a 3-on-1, the Hounds captain took a feed from Sirizzotti and quickly snapped the puck from the left face-off circle. He beat Spirit netminder Andrew Oke to the glove side for his second of the night and ninth of the season at 16:37.
“It’s kind of a blur. I saw the glove side and put it there and luckily it was the game-winner,” said McConnell-Barker, who notched his first two-goal game of the 2023-2024 campaign. “We came out a bit slow in the first two periods tonight. We didn’t have our best game, but it says a lot that we came out with the two points.”
With the Hounds winning their third straight to improve to 16-7-2-0, Dean thought the captain played his best game of the season.
“He competed so hard in the third period,” the coach said of McConnell-Barker. “He put us on his shoulders.”
The London, Ont., native also scored to put the Soo up 3-2 early in the third following a neutral zone turnover by the Spirit. McConnell-Barker flew past Saginaw defenceman Braden Hache and, on a breakaway, slipped the puck through the five-hole at the 2:56 mark.
Considering the circumstances surrounding the win, Dean talked about how proud he is of his club.
He discussed the trip that wrapped up on Sunday in Mississauga, before saying “and the league puts us on the road again Wednesday for the most important game of the season? But our guys found a way to absolutely be gritty, relentless, win battles and block shots.”
Head coach Chris Lazary, whose club fell to 14-8-0-1, said he thought the Spirit was the better team.
“But we’re terrible at letting guys get behind us,” Lazary said in reference to McConnell-Barker’s winner. “Hopefully, this will be the game where guys get it in their heads that it’s not OK for that to keep happening.”
Trailing 2-0 in the second period, Saginaw’s Matyas Sapovaliv won an offensive face-off and Zayne Parekh skated the puck into the slot. The defenceman beat Schenkel low to the glove side at 12:12.
Three minutes later, with the clubs skating 4-on-4, Schenkel made a pad save on Parekh before Joey Willis banged home the rebound from the left side of the net. That tied it 2-2.
Sirizzotti opened the scoring for the visitors at 16:15 in the opening period. Andrew Gibson’s shot hit a Saginaw defender in front and bounced right to Owen Allard in the slot. He fed Sirizzotti at the side of the net for his seventh goal of the season.
The Hounds took advantage of a Saginaw turnover to make it 2-0 at 2:25 of the second period. Travis Hayes fed Alex Kostov in the slot and the Mississauga native scored his second goal in as many games, beating Oke low to the glove side.
With 40 seconds left in regulation and Oke on the bench for an extra attacker, Gibson made a beautiful shot block at the side of the Soo goal. It likely kept Mangone from scoring his second of the night.
“He lays his body on the line and puts the team before himself,” Dean said of the Detroit Red Wings prospect.
Hounds winger Jordan D’Intino appeared to suffer a shoulder injury early in the first period and didn’t return. About seven minutes in, D’Intino was on the receiving end of a clean shove by Hache and slid awkwardly into the boards behind Oke. The London, Ont., native left the ice in obvious pain.
“He left the game, so obviously that can’t be great,” said Dean, who added he had no information about the extent of the injury.
He did say the overage would get checked by a team doctor once the club returns to the Sault.