Going into the Ontario Hockey League playoffs as the favourite, the Soo Greyhounds wanted to get off to a good start.
A pair of goals in the second period by Taylor Raddysh would be they key as the Greyhounds picked up series-opening 5-2 victory over the Saginaw Spirit Friday night at the Essar Centre.
Soo Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister credited the Spirit for a good start to the contest in which the Greyhounds led 1-0 and the Spirit held a 12-11 shots advantage.
“They did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone and they were heavy on the forecheck. They played with energy and were physical,” Bannister said. “That’s what we expected.
“We settled in later on in the first period and in the second and third, we started to really play, and we didn’t spend a lot of time in our zone which really breaks teams down when they’re defending a lot against us,” Bannister added.
The Spirit would tie the game early in the second period before the Greyhounds took the lead for good in the late stages of the frame.
“We came out hard,” said Spirit Coach Troy Smith. “We needed to get a goal early when we had chances in tight.”
With the game tied at one, Raddysh beat Evan Cormier glove side from the slot before giving the Greyhounds some insurance in the final minute of the frame when he took a feed from Morgan Frost on a three-way passing play started by Boris Katchouk and beat Cormier with 53 seconds to go in the frame.
“He’s a big, powerful guy and he’s got an extremely heavy shot,” Bannister said of Raddysh. “There’s a reason why we had to pay a high price for him. He’s an outstanding player and he’s had success in the playoffs. Players like that aren’t easy to come by.”
For the Spirit, the second period saw the Greyhounds turn it up late and take over.
“They turned it up a little bit and we got away from our game a little bit at times,” Smith said. “There were moments where we started to show a little bit of pressure but that unlucky bounce on the fourth goal was really what did it in.”
The goal Smith was referring to was when Mac Hollowell banked the puck off the end boards and towards the Saginaw goal. The puck would deflect in off Cormier to make it 4-1 at the time.
Jack Kopacka, who also picked up an assist in the game opened the scoring just under three minutes into the contest for the Greyhounds while Keeghan Howdeshell also scored. Hollowell finished the night with two assists in addition to his goal.
Boris Katchouk also set up a pair of goals for the home team.
Greyhounds goaltender Matthew Villalta made 19 saves.
Danny Katic and Cole Coskey scored for the Spirit.
Overage goaltender Evan Cormier made 34 saves for Saginaw.
Game two is Sunday afternoon at the Essar Centre before the series shifts to Saginaw for games three and four on Monday and Wednesday nights at the Dow Event Center.
In other action around the OHL on Friday night, in Kingston, Luke Burghardt had a pair of goals and assisted on another as the North Bay Battalion beat the Kingston Frontenacs 5-2. Jeremy Helvig made 40 saves for the Frontenacs. North Bay leads the series 1-0.
In St. Catharines, Stephen Dhillon made 34 saves as the Niagara IceDogs doubled up the Oshawa Generals 4-2. Ben Jones, Akil Thomas and Sam Miletic chipped in with a goal and an assist each for Niagara. The IceDogs lead the series 1-0.
In Sarnia, Cole Purboo scored twice as the Windsor Spitfires beat the Sarnia Sting 6-2. Michael DiPietro made 43 saves for Windsor. The Spitfires lead the series 1-0.
In Kitchener, Adam Mascherin and Riley Damiani had a goal and two assists each as the Kitchener Rangers skated to a series-opening 7-2 win over the Guelph Storm. Mario Culina made 36 saves for the Rangers. Kitchener leads the series 1-0.
On the opening day of the playoffs on Thursday, in Hamilton. Robert Thomas had two goals and two assists as the Hamilton Bulldogs doubled up the Ottawa 67’s 6-3. Brandon Saigeon added two goals and an assist while Matthew Strome had a goal and two assists for Hamilton, who took a 1-0 series lead in the process.
In Owen Sound, Maksim Sushko’s goal at 2:54 of the third period was the game-winner as the Owen Sound Attack beat the London Knights 5-4. Alan Lyszczarczyk had a pair of goals for the Attack. Owen Sound leads the series 1-0.
In Barrie, Owen Tippett had two goals and an assist as the Mississauga Steelheads beat the Barrie Colts 6-2. Trent Fox added a pair of goals for Mississauga. The Steelheads lead the series 1-0.