Saginaw, Mich. – The Firebirds will play their final pre-season game Saturday night against their in-state rivals, the Saginaw Spirit. The contest will take place at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (ET). All tickets are $7 for general admission. Last night the two teams played in front of a capacity crowd at Flint Iceland Arenas, with the Spirit earning a 6-4 victory. (Highlights)
So far this preseason, the Firebirds are 2-2-0-0, including last night’s game at Iceland. Saginaw is 4-0-0-0, which includes a three-game sweep at the OHL Pre-Season Showcase in Kitchener, Ont. earlier this month. These two squads will meet eight times during the regular season, with the team who wins more head-to-head matches earning the coveted Coors Light I-75 Divide Cup. Flint won the I-75 Divide Cup during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 regular seasons, but Saginaw took home the hardware last year.
Players to Watch:
Flint Firebirds (2-2-0-0; West Division)
C.J. Clarke: Four games into the preseason, Clarke sits atop the list of all OHL players, tied only with Luke Kutkevicius of Windsor, with eight total points (4G, 4A). He hails from Mississauga, Ont. and is entering his fourth season in the OHL. A season ago Clarke set new personal records with Flint, logging 16 goals and 28 total points. Last night he earned three assists in the game at Flint Iceland Arenas.
Connor Roberts: Roberts sits second on Flint’s stat sheet and tied for fourth in the league with six points (4G, 2A) in four games. The 6-foot-4 native of Owen Sound, Ont. was acquired in a trade with Hamilton last season. After the trade, Roberts recorded 15 goals and 27 total points in 44 games. He attended this season’s Pittsburg Penguins’ Development Camp. Roberts leads the entire OHL with two game-winning goals this pre-season.
Evan Vierling: The Firebirds selected the forward from Aurora, Ont. with the second overall pick in the first-round of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Vierling already has two points in four games in his first pre-season in the OHL.
Eric Uba: Uba played in four regular-season games with the Firebirds last season, picking up his first OHL point with an assist. He hails from Kitchener, Ont. and played with the Wellington Dukes and the Oakville Blades, both of the OJHL, during the 2017-18 season. In four pre-season games this year, Uba has a goal and an assist for two points.
Michael Bianconi: The first-year defenseman from Toronto, Ont. was Flint’s third-round pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Last season, he recorded 31 points (5G, 26A) in 57 games with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens (GTHL). He averaged an impressive point per game in the 2018 OHL Cup powered by Under Armour, with three goals and four assists in seven games. He was one of six players named to the Gatorade OHL Cup All-Star team, along with Vierling. Four games into his first OHL pre-season, Bianconi is tied for third on the squad with +/- rating of +3.
Jacob Winterton: Winterton was selected by the Firebirds in the 10th-round of the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. Last season, he tallied 52 points (33G, 19A) in 33 games with the Ajax/Pickering Raiders Midget AAA Hockey Club, and played a key role in helping the Raiders capture the Gold Medal in the 2018 OMHA playoffs, notching eight points (5G, 3A) in seven post-season games. Jacob was also named the Eastern AAA Hockey League (ETAHL) OMHA All Star Game MVP. He hails from Whitby, Ont. and Winterton has one point thus far in the pre-season.
Between the Pipes: A season ago, Luke Cavallin was the rookie backup netminder to overager, Garrett Forrest. This season, the more experienced Cavallin and newly acquired veteran Emanuel Vella (Mississauga) are expected to backstop the Firebirds in goal. Last season, Cavallin appeared in 31 games and posted a 4.19 goals-against average (GAA) and a .872 save percentage (SAV%). Vella made 32 appearances a season ago, finishing with a 3.27 GAA and a .896 SAV%. The London Knights originally drafted Vella 47th overall (3rd round) in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. Evan Morrison is the third goaltender for Flint this pre-season. He played just over 32 minutes against the Windsor Spitfires on September 2, making nine saves on 13 shots. Morrison was drafted by the Firebirds in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.
NHL: The Firebirds have three players with NHL ties. Center Ty Dellandrea was selected 13th overall in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, making him the highest draft pick to date from the Flint organization. Defensemen Fedor Gordeev (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Dennis Busby (Arizona Coyotes) are also signed with NHL teams. Additionally, five other Firebirds’ players attended NHL Development Camps over the summer, including Hunter Holmes (Philadelphia Flyers), Riley McCourt (Dallas Stars), Hakon Nilsen (New York Islanders), Connor Roberts (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Emanuel Vella (New York Islanders).
Saginaw Spirit (4-0-0-0; West Division):
Albert Michnac: Newly acquired forward from Mississauga, Albert Michnac earned a two-point night last night. He’s recorded three points in three pre-season games.
DJ Busdeker: With four points in just three games this pre-season, Busdeker leads all Spirit players with more than a point-per-game average. The Dexter, Mich. native is entering his third season of OHL hockey with Saginaw. Last night, Busdeker scored a goal and added a helper in Flint.
Cole Perfetti was taken fifth overall in the first round of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. The Whitby, Ont native played most of last season with the Vaughan Kings Minor Midget AAA of the GTMMHL. He scored 52 goals and added 73 helpers for a total of 125 points in just 65 games. He also picked up six points in five games with the Whitby Fury of the OJHL a year ago. So far, he has four points in four pre-season games with the Spirit, including three assists last night.
Ethan Cardwell was the Spirit’s second-round draft pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, going 33rd overall. In 34 games with the Clarington Toros in Minor Midget AAA last season, he scored 30 goals and added 24 helpers for 54 total points. In four pre-season contests this month, Cardwell has three assists.
Camaryn Baber was the Spirit’s third-round selection in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. He appeared in 11 games with Saginaw last season, earning a goal and two assists. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont native played with the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL last season, racking up 46 points in 46 games. Last night, Baber collected his first goal of the pre-season.
Mason Millman is a defenseman who hails from London, Ont, and was the Spirit’s seventh-round pick in the 2017 draft. In 46 regular-season appearances with the St. Thomas Stars of the GOJHL last season, he scored six goals and added 22 helpers for 28 points in 46 contests. He also added ten assists in 16 playoff games for the Stars. In three pre-season contests this season, Millman has one goal and an assist, and is a +7.
Between the Pipes: Returning goaltender Cameron Lamour appeared in 17 contests with the Spirit last season, posting a 4.16 GAA and a .867 SAV%. Lamour made eight saves on eight shots last night, playing the last 30 minutes of the game in flint. Rookie netminder Tristan Lennox was Saginaw’s second-round pick in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. In one pre-season game this year he made 22 saves on 26 shots for a .846 SAV%. Lennox made 14 saves on 18 shots in the first 30 minutes of last night’s contest. Ivan Prosvetov, from Moskva, Russia, was the 13th overall selection in the 2018 OHL Import Draft. He was also selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft. Last season, in 36 regular-season appearances with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, Prosvetov posted a 2.90 goals-against average (GAA) and a save percentage (SAV%) of .913. He also played in 11 playoff games, improving to a 2.58 GAA and a .921 SAV%.
NHL: Saginaw has six players with NHL ties, including two players drafted by the Detroit Red Wings: Brady Gilmour and Reilly Webb. Other connected players include, Blade Jenkins (New York Islanders), Damien Giroux (Minnesota Wild), Bode Wilde (New York Islanders) and Ivan Prosvetov (Arizona Coyotes). Additionally, four other Spirit players attended NHL Camps during the off-season, consisting of Max Grondin (Carolina Hurricanes), Caleb Everett (Columbus Blue Jackets), Albert Michnac (Arizona Coyotes), and Keaton Middleton (San Jose Sharks).
Saturday evening’s pre-season contest in Saginaw can be heard live on the radio throughout Flint & Mid-Michigan on US 103.1 FM, online at www.us103.com or by downloading the US 103 app here. Dominic Hennig will call the play-by-play action on the Flint Firebirds Hockey Radio Network. Pregame coverage will begin 30 minutes prior to puck drop at 6:30 p.m.
Despite the majority of Flint Firebirds games being televised province-wide throughout Ontario this season, there will be no TV coverage for Saturday’s game. During the season, OHL fans with cable television in Ontario can add the OHL Action Pak to their television plan to catch the Firebirds in action, home or away all season long. Last season, 65 of the Firebirds’ 68 games were televised live across the province of Ontario on the OHL Action Pak.
All Flint Firebirds home and away games throughout the 2018-19 season can be watched anywhere in the world online on www.ohllive.com or on the OHL Live app. OHL Live is a league video streaming platform that delivers high quality live and on-demand coverage of all regular season and playoff games annually. The cost is $6.99 per game, $69.99 for Flint Firebirds away games only, $179.99 for all 68 home and away Firebirds games and $279.99 for all 1,360 OHL games throughout the 2017-18 season.
The Flint Firebirds’ home opening night will take place on Saturday, Sep. 29. The Firebirds will host the London Knights at 7 p.m. (ET) at the Dort Federal Event Center in Flint. Opening night and single game tickets for the Firebirds’ 2018-19 season are on sale now and can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com here. Single game tickets are $12 for bronze, $16 for silver, $20 for gold and $26 for VIP seating. Discounted season tickets are on sale and fans are encouraged to visit the Dort Federal Event Center Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. to select the best seating locations. For questions, fans may call the Dort Federal Event Center Box Office at (810) 744-0580 or email email@example.com.
Fans do not want to miss Opening Night as the club currently holds a 3-0 record in ‘home openers’ through their first three seasons in the OHL. Flint earned a 3-2 shootout victory over the Saginaw Spirit in the inaugural season before posting a 4-0 win over the Spirit in September of 2016. The Firebirds then notched an exciting 5-4 overtime victory over the Ottawa 67’s in last season’s home-opener.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Hoffman
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