Spirit beats Warriors 7-1 to secure place in Memorial Cup final against rival Knights


SAGINAW – Ethan Hay didn't feel the Saginaw Spirit dominated Friday's game, but he pointed to a mentality and a feeling that there was still work to be done.

SAGINAW – Ethan Hay didn't feel the Saginaw Spirit dominated Friday's game, but he pointed to a mentality and a feeling that there was still work to be done.

Hay scored two goals and two assists to lead the host Spirit to a 7-1 semifinal victory over the Moose Jaw Warriors that secured their ticket to Sunday's Memorial Cup final.

Saginaw will face Ontario Hockey League champions the London Knights, who advanced to the finals with a 3-0 win in the round robin. The Spirit lost to the Knights 4-2 in the round robin finals on Wednesday.

“I wouldn't say it was a specific moment,” Hay said. “We decided right from the start that we were going to take over the game. It was a mentality that went through the room.”

“We still have a score to settle and we want this chip.”

Saginaw and London finished the season as the best teams in the OHL, splitting their four regular season meetings. The Spirit then lost to the Knights 4-2 in the OHL Western Conference final series.

Saginaw could become the first team to win the Memorial Cup as a first-time participant since the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2011, and the eighth since 1972. The Spirit are also aiming to become the third host team in the last six tournaments to win the Memorial Cup, following Windsor (2017) and Saint John (2022).

“This is something very special and all I can say is: all good things come in threes,” said Hay about the chance to make history against London.

Rodwin Dionicio had a goal and three assists, while Lincoln Moore and Sebastien Gervais each had a goal and two assists for Saginaw. Braden Haché and Owen Beck scored the other two goals and Andrew Oke saved 23 shots.

Saginaw head coach Chris Lazary was quick to praise his fourth line of Hay, Gervais and Moore.

“Our fourth line hasn't played much all tournament,” Lazary said. “These guys go out there and carry the whole team on their shoulders, and then a leader like Haché takes those guys aside and tells them all week, 'You're going to do something big for this group in this tournament.'”

“And tonight they were a very, very decisive reason for our victory. I am just super proud of them and our group as a whole. The pressure today is huge.”

Jagger Firkus scored a goal and Jackson Unger saved 30 shots for Moose Jaw, which won its first Western Hockey League title and qualified for the Memorial Cup.

“It was a tough game, a tough loss,” Warriors coach Mark O'Leary said. “I thought Saginaw played a damn good hockey game. They forechecked hard and we really couldn't get anything done.”

“It doesn't change my opinion of them,” O'Leary added in his message to the team. “We're sad we didn't win our last game of the year. … At the same time, when the dust settles here, you can be upset that we lost here tonight, but also upset that you can't do it again with the group of guys that you won with.”

Striker Atley Calvert had watery eyes as he faced reporters after the loss.

“This hurts now, but obviously when you look back on the year in a few days, you'll have a different feeling,” he said. “Growing up with the group and going through pain and struggles and ending up like this is tough, but I couldn't ask for a better group.”

Hay opened the scoring just 3:03 minutes into the first half when he scored a one-timer from the left face-off circle after a pass from Gervais.

Lucas Brenton equalized at 4:18, but the goal was disallowed after the Spirit successfully challenged goaltender interference.

Firkus put Moose Jaw on the board at 7:08. He kept the puck on a 2-on-1 and hit a backhand shot that rolled into the net by Oke.

Haché restored Saginaw's lead 1:53 into the game when he converted a wrist shot from above the left face-off circle after a pass from Michael Misa.

Beck increased his lead to 2-0 in the 3:47 minute after Josh Bloom gave him a perfect backhand pass across the ice and he converted a wrist shot from the right face-off circle.

Moore entered the game at 9:05 a.m. Hay found Moore with a cross pass and Moore shot the one-timer into the goal from a tight angle in the left face-off circle.

Hay scored his second goal of the game at 11:22, taking advantage of a backhand pass across the ice from Moore.

Gervais increased the lead to five goals in the 14:24 minute when he scored a rebound in a crowded front.

Dionicio extended his lead 1:10 into the third period by finishing off a ball in the Moose Jaw zone and firing a wrist shot past Unger into the net.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press