The 2018-19 OHL season has been one of opportunity for the Saginaw Spirit, something the team hopes translates into a long playoff run and helps recruit potential new players.
Ahead of the trade deadline, the team went out and added overage defenceman Justin Murray from the Barrie Colts.
They then made two big splashes by acquiring Edmonton Oilers prospect Ryan McLeod and Florida Panthers prospect Owen Tippett in separate deals with the Mississauga Steelheads.
The additions of McLeod and Tippett especially helped make the franchise a potential draw for future players.
"The first thing they’ve done for our franchise is they’ve provided us with recognition," Spirit coach Chris Lazary said. "People look at our franchise and say, ‘They’re for real.’ Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod were willing to waive no-trade clauses and move to Saginaw, Michigan in their final year of junior. That says something about our organization, and it says something about them as people. They’re unbelievable kids. The way they interact with their teammates, the leadership they provide, how they’ve fit into a group that was already tight and made us tighter, it’s been cool to watch as a coach."
Murray’s play since being acquired earned high praise from Lazary as well.
"It’s unbelievable that an NHL team hasn’t signed this kid already," Lazary said. "He is a mix of old-school toughness – he’ll get into your body, his gaps are tight, he’ll play you hard and he’ll defend hard – but new-school with the way the game is going, he’ll make a ton of plays, he’ll bring pucks back and keep possession, up off the rush and a part of the offence, always coming down off the walls in the offensive zone."
For Tippett, the opportunity to play in Saginaw has been a good one.
"It’s been really fun," Tippett said. "When it did happen, there was a lot of change happening at once but since I got settled in, it’s been unbelievable. The guys have been great and really welcoming. We’ve had team success, which has made it that much better."
Tippett credited the veteran core in Saginaw for helping make the transition easier.
"You see the respect those guys have around the league and you’ve met them during games," Tippett said. "Once you get to put a name to the face and get to know them more personally, it helps a lot. It helps coming to a place like Saginaw. They want to make it a place where people are comfortable coming to. They’re building that environment. You can see the tight group we have now and the success we’re having, it’s really showing."
.@FlaPanthers prospect @TippettOwen snipes his 8th #OHLPlayoffs!#FlaPanthers #SoarWithUs #SAGvsSSM pic.twitter.com/DDDNztS3m1
— Xy- Saginaw Spirit (@SpiritHockey) April 7, 2019
Being able to join a team with a familiar face also made the trade easier.
"I was still away when (McLeod) got traded so it was kind of hard to believe that it was happening," Tippett said. "You never really realize something can be happening until a player like that gets traded."
"That’s what made it a little easier to say yes and accept to go to Saginaw is because there are so many familiar faces and you’re comfortable with the guys there," Tippett added.
The two have seen a lot of time on a line together since the trade. The pair saw limited time as linemates in Mississauga, but the match has been a good one in Saginaw. Adding high-scoring rookie Cole Perfetti for long stretches has paid off at times as well.
"It was more just shifts here and there," Tippett said of playing with McLeod on a line with the Steelheads. "And when you add a player like Cole Perfetti on our line, you forget that he’s 16 with some of the stuff that he does on the ice."
With the playoffs in full swing, the Spirit sit in a good position in Round 2 with a 2-0 series lead on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after a pair of wins on home ice over the weekend.
Canada preparing roster for U-19 World Hockey Championship
As the U-18 World Hockey Championship approaches, the Canadian entry will feature plenty of talent from the CHL.
As is the norm, the team that will compete in the annual event will be made up of players not participating in CHL playoff action with their respective club teams in North America.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be a talented group at the event though.
The current group of 23 players is headed by Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Dylan Cozens and Kootenay ICE forward Payton Krebs.
The highly-touted skaters lead a forward group that includes some underage talent as well in 2002-born forwards Mavrik Bourque of the Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL), Hendrix Lapierre of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL), and Jean-Luc Foudy of the Windsor Spitfires (OHL).
As more teams drop out of the CHL playoffs, Hockey Canada still could make some additions to the roster over the next week.
Team Canada is slated to begin practicing Monday in Finland and will play a pair of pre-tournament games before the event kicks off on April 18 in Sweden.