Hounds, Spirit on the horizon

April 6, 2024

This has become an intense, heated, hot blooded and extraordinary rivalry between two prime time Ontario Hockey League teams that are separated by the International Bridge, Mackinac Bridge and 240 miles in total. 

While it seems as though every contending team in the Western Conference wants to beat — and be like — the London Knights, the Soo Greyhounds and Saginaw Spirit have established a vying opposition of friction and conflict that is as good as it gets in the OHL.

Greyhounds. Spirit. Two teams of good repute that have solid ownership and are well managed. Two teams that have head coaches — John Dean of the Greyhounds and Chris Lazary of the Spirit — who have grown on the job and are well suited to the top notch league that the OHL is. Suffice to say that Dean and Lazary are among the higher calibre head coaches in the OHL just as Kyle Raftis of the Greyhounds and Dave Drinkill of the Spirit are in the company of the league’s top shelf general managers.

Time to buckle up. Time to settle in. The Greyhounds and Spirit, both on the upside from first round playoff sweeps, will face off in a second round series that is as evenly matched as can be. Consider this: the two teams split eight regular season games with four wins apiece and with neither side scoring a home ice victory. Isn’t that wild?

To be sure, there is more pressure on the Greyhounds to win the seven game showdown than there is on the Spirit. If the Greyhounds lose, their season is over. However, win or lose, Saginaw is guaranteed a spot as the host entry at the Canadian Hockey League’s looming Memorial Cup championship tournament. 

Saginaw heads into the series as the no. 2 seed in the Western Conference following a regular season record of 50-16-2. The Greyhounds were seven points behind as the no. 3 seed with a record of 45-18-5. (Both teams trailed the aforementioned London Knights.)

Andrew Gibson

Meanwhile, aforementioned Greyhounds head coach John Dean was quoted in the Greyhounds Gazette (which is part of the team’s website) as saying that facing Saginaw in the second round of the playoffs is “what we expected. They are a good hockey team, obviously. They have built themselves for a run this season, as have we. They have got a very good offensive team and it is going to be a great series in my opinion.”

And Greyhound defenseman Andrew Gibson also noted that the second round matchup with the Spirit is what was expected. 

“Seeing this matchup happen, everyone is fired up, everyone is ready,” said Gibson, who is one of three Greyhound defensemen — Kirill Kudryavstev and Arttu Karki are the others — to put up more than 40 points during the regular season. 

Not that Saginaw is short on defensemen who are prolific point producers. And then some. Regular season and playoffs included, sophomore Spirit stalwart Zayne Parekh now has 100 points from his blue line position while overager Rodwin Dionicio has 76 — which are, to say the least, breathtaking numbers.

Calem Mangone

Offensively, both teams have their share of standout skaters. While Saginaw has seasoned stalwarts such as Josh Bloom, Alex Christopoulos, Owen Beck, Michael Misa and Sault Ste. Marie product Calem Mangone, the Red and White of the Soo can counter with Jack Beck, Gavin Hayes, Bryce McConnell-Barker, Jacob Frasca and Marco Mignosa.

Some might also call it a draw between the pipes with three 2004 birth year puck stoppers between the two teams. While the Greyhounds have veteran workhorse Charlie Schenkel, the Spirit has two well seasoned net minders to call on in Andrew Oke and Nolan Lalonde. Are two better than one? Why have two when one will do? Depends on which side you are on. 

PREDICTION: The heart says the Hounds in seven but the head says the Spirit in six. We shall see whether the heart or the head prevails.

Coulson Pitre

IN LIKE FLINT: While first place London did as expected in upending Flint in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, the Knights got all they could handle from the eighth place Firebirds. London eked out 3-0 (with an empty net goal), 6-4 (with an empty net goal), 4-3 (overtime) and 3-2 victories to eliminate coach Paul Flache’s feisty Firebirds from Flint. “(Flint) played really hard,” high scoring London forward Denver Barkey told Postmedia. “There wasn’t much time and space. It was a harder series than any one of us thought. They played with a lot of heart.” … Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League have confirmed the signing of 19-year old Flint forward and captain Coulson Pitre to a three year entry level contract effective the 2024-2025 season. Originally selected in the fourth round by the Windsor Spitfires at the 2020 OHL priority selections draft, Pitre has skated in 166 regular season games for Flint over the span of three years and piled up 75 goals, 84 assists, 159 points. He has also appeared in 25 playoff games during that time and potted 10 goals, six assists, 16 points. Pitre’s point totals are the fourth most in Flint’s OHL franchise history.

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