More than 5,000 Saginaw Spirit fans gathered to welcome the 2021-22 season, marking a return to Sakanw hockey for the first time in 588 days.
Mitchell Smith, a Saginaw Heritage graduate, also celebrated, scoring 2-0 in the first period for the Spirit. The Erie Otters, however, scored the next four goals to claim a 4-2 victory in front of 5,278 fans at The Dow Event Center on Saturday.
Smith described it as a bittersweet moment, celebrating his hometown's return to hockey and scoring solitary goal in his first game back.
Smith, 19, returned to the Spirit after accepting an invitation to join the Colorado Avalanche training camp, competing for a contract or roster spot in the organization.
Smith described it as a great time, he said, and subsequently deemed it remarkably valuable. It's a pleasure to come back to Saginaw. Im delighted to get a chance to play here again, but its gratifying because you want to compete at the highest level.
I learned a lot of things there that help you improve your game, including hints on how to play better golf. You learn how to carry yourself, how you can be an NHL player, and how it should look.
Smith was able to play baseball his senior season at Heritage High School when the Ontario Hockey League cancelled its 2020-21 season because of COVID. But it may have cost him a spot in the NHL Draft.
Smith said, "People say I shouldnt be disappointed or its understandable that I didn t get selected because I wasnd not play last year." It might be true, but it was still disappointing. All I can do is keep working, keep getting better every day, and be ready for the next opportunity.
Nick Wong assisted in scoring Roberto Mancini's first goal of the 2021-22 season. Smith scored at the 17:56 mark of the first period off PJ Forgione and Calem Mangone's assists.
Smith stated, We came out pretty hot, maybe too hot. We might have started to coast a little because it was easy. Maybe I was guilty of that too.
Colby Saganiuk and Noah Sedore scored two goals in the second period less than five minutes apart when they beat Triston Lennox to tie the game. Elias Cohen scored the game-winner less than two minutes into the third period to earn the Otters, who had already lost two games. With :54.3 remaining in the game, Brendan Sellan scored an empty-net goal.
The teams return to The Dow Event Center for the Spirits second game of the season at 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon
Smith said that the team will be ready and will do a better job Sunday. Every game is a chance to improve, he added.
Its a goal, something you learn. I spent three weeks in Colorados camp, and Im grateful to the coaches for treating me like one of their players, coaching me, encouraging me and helping me improve.
Smith also learned from a training camp teammate, former Penn State goaltender Payton Jones.
We hung out, and it was interesting comparing careers because we had different paths, Smith said. Hes 25, and Im 19. Here 19. We talked about his career, my career; how we got to where we are today; and our futures.
Jones was sent to Colorado's minor-league affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies, while Smith, who was in the Colorado camp as a non-roster invitee, returned to Saginaw.
Smith said he is happy to be here, happy that a part of this is possible. But Ive learned to be careful with your game.
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Fans, ice, players, and Saginaw Spirit fans, get a fresh start after the thrashing of the 2020-21 season.