As the Spirit seeks to rise in Saginaw and return to the Ontario Hockey League playoffs in 2017-2018 it could well begin with the presence of goalie Evan Cormier.
As a seasoned veteran with a late 1997 birth date, the return of Cormier as an overage backstop would be a major building block for Saginaw, which missed the Western Conference playoffs by six points in what was a rebuild 2016-2017 season.
Not that Saginaw can plan with any degree of certainty that Cormier will be one of its three overage players next season. That’s because the 6-foot-2, 200-pound native of Bowmanville, Ont. has National Hockey League draft status as a fourth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils from a year ago.
The catch though is that New Jersey already has two young goalies in its farm system in recent OHL graduates Ken Appleby and Mackenzie Blackwood.
Appleby, who backed the Oshawa Generals to the 2015 Memorial Cup championship, has a 1995 birth date. And Blackwood, formerly of the Barrie Colts and the Team Canada juniors, was born in 1996.
Thus, it might be best for Cormier and New Jersey — not to mention Saginaw — that the Devils prospect plays another OHL season and the major minutes that he would almost certainly get with the Spirit in 2017-2018.
Under second-year general manager Dave Drinkill and first-year head coach Spencer Carbery, Saginaw opted for a full-out youth movement in 2016-2017, dealing off veteran players for younger skaters and a bushel of draft picks.
Still, the Spirit challenged for a Western Conference playoff spot until the latter portion of the regular-season schedule only to finish in ninth place, albeit with a respectable point total of 63.
Indeed, the 63 points that Saginaw put up were more than three teams who made the playoffs in the Eastern Conference — Sudbury Wolves, Ottawa 67’s and Niagara IceDogs.
In fact, with better secondary goal-tending, Saginaw might well have squeaked into the playoffs.
Cormier certainly did his part with a record of 23-19-7 that was accompanied by a 3.23 goals against average and .899 save percentage. But 1999 birth-year backup Brendan Bonello struggled with a 3-11-2 record, 4.60 goals against average and .856 save percentage.
Saginaw also gave 2000 birth-year rookie Cameron Lamour an audition and he responded well with a 1-2-0 record, 2.21 goals against average and .901 save percentage.
At any rate, looking ahead, with a roster of promise in place for the 2017-2018 season, the return of Cormier as an overage would only enhance what is expected to be a significant surge in Saginaw.
PHOTO: Evan Cormier has stood tall between the pipes for the Saginaw Spirit.