There’s a mutual respect between the Soo Greyhounds and Saginaw Spirit and it’s understandable considering the battle the two teams had in the Ontario Hockey League’s West Division this season.
The division title came down to the last weekend of the regular season and now the two clubs are set to see a lot more of each other over the next couple of weeks.
After opening round wins, the two teams will meet in the OHL playoffs for the second consecutive season and this one will be a lot closer than when the teams met one year ago in round one.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought series,” said Greyhounds coach John Dean. “We play pretty similar styles. They want to be a puck-possession team and so do we. It’s going to be a fight for time and space and who wants that puck more.”
“They have a pretty deep team,” Dean said of the Spirit. “You don’t get a chance to sit back and rest, no matter what line is on the ice.”
For the Spirit, the feeling is mutual.
“It’s going to be an extremely tough series,” Spirit coach Chris Lazary said. “They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league with the puck.”
“They have goaltending, they have defenders that can move the puck, and they have some of the best forwards in the league,” Lazary added. “It’s a dangerous opponent for us but I think we’re ready for it.”
Like any playoff series, special teams will be a difference-maker.
On the power play, the two clubs had similar numbers. The Spirit had a slight advantage, converting at a rate of 22.5 per cent as opposed to the Greyhounds conversion rate of 22.2 per cent.
Both teams were also tight on the penalty kill. The Spirit killed off 82.9 per cent of opposition power plays, third in the OHL, while the Greyhounds penalty kill clicked at a rate of 82.3 per cent, which was fourth.
“A big thing in any playoff series is special teams,” Dean said. “We’re going to want to win the special teams battle for sure and we’re going to want to win all of the individual battles as well five-on-five. It sounds really simple when you state it like that but those are the facts. If we come out on top on special teams and make sure that we make the ice a battle for every inch five-on-five, we give ourselves a chance to win the series.”
Lazary also spoke of how important special teams will be.
“How we track and sort off the rush, just because they make so many plays on entry is critical,” Lazary said. “Special teams in this series is going to be a massive factor in who has success.”
The first-year coach also spoke of how “details and execution” will also go a long way in having success in a series between two highly-skilled clubs.
“You can’t fall asleep at the wheel. You have to be extremely detailed in all three zones. Then you have to be able to execute, whether it’s a zone entry or the power play, whether it’s being the net-front and having traffic,” Lazary said. Whatever it is, your details have to be tight. Your execution has to be tight. And you have to stay disciplined.”
The Greyhounds advanced thanks to a five-game series win over the Owen Sound Attack in the first round and the series was a learning experience for the club.
“In the regular season, when you’re not on point for the finer details of the game, it can bite you in the regular season but it’s really easy to go back and correct it and talk about it,” Dean said. “In the playoffs, the little details matter. If you take the details off for one shift, it can come back and be the deciding factor of a game. That’s why you see the pace of the game is so much quicker and the space is so much smaller. For our young guys, that’s a real learning experience. We played a team in Owen Sound who wanted to make us fight for every inch of the ice and really wanted to make it a tough series on us.”
“Owen Sound pushed us and showed us some limitations in our game which need to be addressed, which is good,” Dean also said. “We can’t sit back and sit on just being a skilled team. We definitely had some lessons from Owen Sound.
Saginaw advanced thanks to a four-game sweep of the Sarnia Sting in the first round.
The season series between the two clubs saw the Spirit hold a 4-3-1-0 advantage. If the season series showed fans one thing, it’s the talent on display between the two clubs.
“The regular season is a very different animal than the playoffs,” Dean said. “The season series kind of gets wiped out and everyone starts from scratch. But it’s pretty clear for both sides that if you give either team time and space, they’re both dangerous. We want to limit their opportunities to make plays.”
Greyhounds forward Zack Trott and Joe Carroll both sat out game five against Owen Sound due to injuries.
Dean said on Wednesday that both players remain day-to-day.
The series opens on Friday night at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw at 7:05 p.m. with game two on Sunday, also at the Dow. Puck drop on Sunday is set for 5:30 p.m.
The series then shifts to Sault Ste. Marie for games three and four. Game three is Tuesday night with game four to follow on Thursday. Puck drop for both games is 7:07 p.m.
Game five is April 12 in Saginaw with game six on April 14 in Sault Ste. Marie and Game seven on April 16 in Saginaw.