By @StefanKubus –
DETROIT – It couldn’t have been a better outcome for Rochester native Sean Day.
In one of the arenas he grew up playing in, not far from home, he took center stage and single-handedly delivered a 3-2 victory for his Windsor Spitfires over the Saginaw Spirit Sunday evening. Day scored two late power-play goals in the final five minutes of the third period to tie the game for Windsor, and then he finished off the hat trick in overtime.
Day, a third-round pick of the New York Rangers in 2016, skated for the likes of Honeybaked, Compuware and Little Caesars at Joe Louis Arena from time-to-time growing up. He said it was a unique opportunity to do it at this level, one he wouldn’t forget.
“I grew up playing here when I was on Little Caesars, so it’s pretty cool just to be back and play in the OHL here,” Day said. “It’s different than a lot of the other rinks because it’s a lot bigger, but what a place to play. It’s pretty cool to be here and have my family here to watch.”
Day is in his fourth OHL season after being granted exceptional player status upon league entry. This season, he was dealt to the Spitfires from Mississauga after five games and with 18 points in 22 games, it appears he’s finding his top offensive gear.
“I haven’t scored in a little bit, so that felt good to get the first two and then get the OT winner, so it was fun,” Day said.
On the other side, first-year Saginaw head coach Spencer Carbery didn’t get the result he and the Spirit wanted, but savored the opportunity to coach in a NHL building.
“It was cool, our guys really enjoyed it,” Carbery said. “We came extra early today, three hours before the game, so the guys got to soak it up. I wish for them that they could’ve come out with a positive outcome. For them leaving here, it’s gonna be a bit bittersweet with losing the day we did, but all in all, I think they’ll look back on it as a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they got to experience today.”
Spirit forward Brady Gilmour echoed his coach’s thoughts, citing the opportunity to not only skate at Joe Louis Arena, but prepare in the Red Wings’ dressing room as highlights of the experience.
“I think just the atmosphere, just how much history there is just walking down the halls in here, you see all the pictures and the Stanley Cups, all the famous players that have played here and then you walk out on that ice,” Gilmour said. “It’s a cool feeling just playing in an NHL building with so much history and heritage to it.
“It was really cool, seeing how old this building is, ended up getting the Red Wings’ dressing room, so it was a cool experience that everyone will take positives away from for sure.”
Before the game officially got underway, OHL alumni – that included Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper and former members of the Detroit Jr. Red Wings – participated in a ceremonial puck drop. The Ted Lindsay Award, Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup were all also on ice as part of the ceremony – the trophies were available on the concourse for fans to take photos with.
In the contest, Matthew Kreis opened the scoring for Saginaw off a great feed from Cole Koskey on a Spirit 2-on-1 late in the opening period to give the Spirit a 1-0 lead heading into the dressing room after 20 minutes.
In the second period, the Spirit once again found the back of the net late, despite being outshot 27-12 at that juncture. With 2:50 remaining in the frame, Red Wings prospect Filip Hronek finished off a gorgeous 3-on-1, tic-tac-toe passing play to put the Spirit up by a pair.
But two goals by Day in a matter of 21 seconds on a Windsor 5-on-3 late in the third period tied things up in a dramatic turn of events to set up overtime.
“You’ve got to find a way to kill those,” Carbery said of the 5-on-3. “They make two big plays, great shots from Sean Day, we need a save or a block there to get that win, and we didn’t get it, and they tie that game up.”
A bizarre broken play after a turnover in front of the Saginaw net resulted in a Windsor goal after a sprawled-out Cormier was unable to recover for the save. However, after video review, it was determined the puck was kicked in and thus disallowed.
But shortly after, Day made sure the next one that entered the net counted, as he broke down the right side of the Windsor zone and fired a laser past Cormier to capture the victory for the Spitfires.
“I just got the puck off the face-off, I saw their guy was kind of aggressive so I kind of just shook him off, took off up the ice and luckily the other defenseman was kind of out of position when he was back and I just kept to the middle of it and shot it,” Day said of his game-winning tally.
Carbery knows it was a tough one for his team to drop, as the Spirit had a 2-0 lead in the final five minutes, but his group did earn a point out of it.
“We played fairly well, we didn’t have our legs, third game in two-and-a-half days, we just didn’t have any jump today,” Carbery said. “But I thought we defended well, we kept things to the perimeters even though the shots were coming and they had us hemmed for a lot of that game. I thought we played pretty well, just sort of turned at the end with a couple calls and the overtime goal.”