It may only be mid-November, but the Sarnia Sting may look back on Friday night’s game with the Saginaw Spirit as a defining moment in their season.
That’s because the Sting rallied from a 3-1 second period deficit to defeat the Spirit 4-3 in overtime before 2,860 delighted fans at the RBC Centre.
Rookie Alex Galachenyuk scored his ninth goal of the season three minutes into the five-minute overtime session on a power play to cap the comeback against the top team in the Western Conference.
It was the only power play chance the Sting had in the entire game.
“We had a power play and Trevor (Letowski) told me to stay in front of the net,” said Galachenyuk, when asked to describe the game-winner. “I knew my job is to stay there. I managed to get the bounce on the rebound and I was able to score.”
The overtime win was the first in four tries for the Sting this season. In their only shootout game, Galachenyuk scored the winner against Belleville.
“Saginaw is a great team. They are excellent skaters. This is a big win as we faced a strong test,” said Galchenyuk.
Sting head coach Dave MacQueen went with four forwards on the power play in overtime.
“It’s about skill and having a big-body presence in front of the net. Our problem with our four-on-threes and five-on-threes this year has been puck movement. We were able to get the puck moving after we got set up. We wanted Alex close to the net for rebounds and he was able to get a rebound and score.”
MacQueen said his team came to life after a slow start.
“I wasn’t too happy with our first period. It was arguably one of our worst this year. Saginaw is a good hockey team and they had us back on our heels. But after saying that, we only allowed six shots. Our message all week was we know how to score, but we needed to shore up defensively.
“We got better as the game went on and in the third period were very, very good. We started to use our points and had traffic in front of their net. We were rewarded for going to the dirty areas.”
When asked how important the come from behind win was, MacQueen added, “It’s just another two points. But the message all season is don’t be afraid of success. Let’s move forward. It was important to respond after what happened in Kingston last Sunday.”
Saginaw, who came into the game with just four regulation-time losses in 22 games, jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead.
Brandon Saad banged home a passout from close range at 4:33 while Brad Walch knocked in a loose puck on a power play at 15:47.
Craig Hottot got the Sting on the board two minutes into the second period when he scored on a rebound for his sixth goal of the year. No red light came on and video replay was needed to confirm the puck crossed the goal line.
But the Spirit got that goal back at 15:44 when Michael Sgarbossa cut around the defence and lifted a backhander past Sting goalie John Cullen.
The Sting comeback began at 10:05 of the third period when Brett Ritchie snapped a quick wrist shot from the right wing into the far corner for his sixth marker of the season.
Sarnia kept coming and tied the game at 14:53 when Joe Rogalski’s point shot managed to squeeze through the pads of Spirit goalie Tadeas Galansky.
That set the stage for overtime where the Sting capitalized on the power play to win the game.
“I thought it was a penalty,” said MacQueen, when asked about the interference call to the Spirit in overtime. “The referees let both teams play throughout the game. We’ll take it.”
MacQueen added, “we haven’t a lot of success against Saginaw the past few years. All three games against them this year has basically been by one goal. They are four lines deep with six defencemen. You’ve got to be on your toes against them. We wanted to play hard, but disciplined. We didn’t want special teams to be the difference as they have the number two power play in the league and the number one penalty-kill.’
MacQueen juggled his lines in the third period. He used Hottot at center throughout the game. He also had an assist on the tying goal to go with his goal and was named the game’s first star.
“Craig is a versatile player who can play any position,” said MacQueen. “He goes out there and can stir things up. We like him coming off the wing to forecheck. Playing center though he is more responsible defensively.”
The second-year forward says he doesn’t mind what position he plays at.
“I’m most used to playing at center and I guess I prefer center to the wing, but it doesn’t really matter. I was happy to get the win tonight. We had a great third period. We got some bounces in the third period and also shut them down allowing just five shots. We had the momentum going into overtime.”
Hottot added, “this win was huge for us. We all figured we should have won in Kingston. Coming back from a two-goal deficit to win should give us a lot of momentum going into our next game.”
Sarnia finished with a 27-26 edge in shots on goal.
The victory put Sarnia above the .500 mark at 10-9-3-0 in the Ontario Hockey League. They continue play tonight when they host the Kingston Frontenacs at 7:05 p.m. at the RBC Centre.
– Hottot was first star with Sgarbossa second and Galchenyuk third star.
– Saginaw had just two power plays and scored on one of them. Both penalties Sarnia took were for shooting the puck in the crowd.
– The Sting improved to 7-4-0-0 on home ice.
– There will be a free skate with the Sting following Saturday night’s game with Kingston.
Dave Borody is a freelance writer who covers Sting games both home and away and also does features for the Sting Website. Photo courtesy Metcalfe Photography.