Monday, February 14, 2005

Whalers and Spirit have busy weekend

The Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit split their two games with each other over the weekend while Plymouth won Saturday night and the Spirit lost in other action.

Friday night in Plymouth, John Vigilante’s goal at 19:12 of the second period proved to be the game-winner as the Whalers defeated the Spirit, 5-1.

Saginaw opened up the scoring in the first period when Joe McCann scored on a wrap-around shot at 2:29. The Spirit led 1-0 after one period of play.

Plymouth came back with the equalizer at 4:47 of the second period when co-captain John Mitchell scored. Vigilante scored in the final minute of the second period and the Whalers led 2-1 after two periods. In the third period, Plymouth pulled away with goals from Dan Collins, Vaclav Meidl, and rookie defenseman Zack Shepley’s first-ever OHL goal came at the 14-minute mark.

"Shep played 28 minutes tonight," Plymouth head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci said. "We've been relying on him a lot lately and it was great for him to get his first goal."

Plymouth’s Ryan Nie turned away 25 of the 26 shots he faced and Saginaw’s Jeff Weber had 34 saves in the loss.

Sunday afternoon in Saginaw, Jesse Gimblett scored at 13:07 of the third period and the Spirit held on for a 5-4 win over Plymouth. It was only the second time in Saginaw's three-year existence they have beaten the Whalers in regulation.

Marek Kvapil, Michal Birner, Chase Crowder and Tom Pyatt scored the other Saginaw goals, while defenseman Patrick McNeill chipped in with three assists. Plymouth got two goals and two assists from Mitchell and singles from Vigilante and Jonas Fiedler. Plymouth defenseman Mike Knight added four assists.

After Pyatt's goal early in the third period, Vellucci pulled starting goaltender Justin Garay (20 shots, 16 saves) for Nie, who stopped seven of the eight shots he faced and took the loss. Weber stopped 26 of 30 Plymouth shots.

"No matter what the score was, we never stopped working," Saginaw head coach and general manager Bob Mancini said. "We battled hard and realized that when we keep doing things right, we always have a chance to win."

In their non-Plymouth action, Saginaw fell, 3-1, to the top-ranked London Knights on Saturday night. Kvapil scored the Spirit's lone goal and Weber stopped 29 shots.

"Half of their team is an all-star team," Weber said. "So we were a little intimidated at first. It was hard to realize that London makes mistakes, too. But once we got past that, we knew we could challenge those guys."

"London is the top team right now," said Spirit captain Thomas Harrison. "But we can't give them too much respect in our game. We fell down 3-0 in the first, but we battled back and went right at them."

The Spirit are now only four points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The defending OHL champion Guelph Storm currently have the eighth seed.

Saturday night in Plymouth, the Whalers ended their 0-5 skid against Windsor this season with a convincing 6-3 win. James Neal scored twice and Vigilante added three assists. Nie made 30 saves while Steve Ward, Cory Tanaka and co-captain Tim Sestito also scored.

"The win was huge," Vigilante said. "We knew our record going in against Windsor and it feels great to get a win, especially with the fight for first in the division."

Plymouth and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds remain tied for first in the OHL West with 54 points each. Both teams have played 54 games.

Plymouth travels to Guelph on Friday night before hosting Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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