By Aaron Bell
Despite dealing away their top scorer at the OHL trade deadline, the Saginaw Spirit have done anything but pack it in and are making some noise in the Western Conference with a little more than a third of the season to go.
The Spirit traded top scorer Vincent Trocheck to the Plymouth Whalers earlier this month but a handful of other veterans have stepped up their production to help the team put together an impressive month.
They’ve won three in a row and nine of their past 10 and have put six points between themselves and the Windsor Spitfires for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 20 games to go in the regular season.
“The kids are just finding a way,” Spirit coach Greg Gilbert told the Saginaw News. “They’re battling. They’re blocking shots and doing the little things. That’s how you win hockey games.”
Veteran centre Eric Locke has been one of the main contributors to the team’s success of late. The 19-year-old has shattered his previous career best scoring numbers with 31 goals and 63 points through 49 games and has been a leader on and off the ice all season.
“With Trocheck gone, there’s a huge hole to fill and all the guys are stepping up,” Locke said. “That’s good to see. I had a good off-season. I worked a lot on my speed, and that gives me so much more time to get my shots off and create plays.”
Locke has had at least one point in all but one game this month including a five point effort against the Soo Greyhounds on Jan. 18.
“Lockers is outstanding,” Gilbert said. “He’s steadily been getting better and more confident. He’s a very strong young man, and he epitomizes how we want to play.”
Locke started his OHL career with the Windsor Spitfires in 2010 and made his way to the Barrie Colts midway through that season. He came to Saginaw in 2012 and quickly became one of their key offensive producers.
“He’s learned the game, and he’s making smart decisions,” Gilbert said. “He’s playing a very mature game. He’s finishing checks and blocking shots. That’s what we want every one of our players to do, and that’s what he does on a regular basis.”
Overage winger Garret Ross is also enjoying a career season, scoring 28 goals and 56 points in 43 games while forwards Jimmy Lodge (16 goals, 41 points), Justin Kea (17 goals, 38 points) and Nick Moutrey (14 goals, 32 points) are among the younger group that are also contributing.
Meanwhile, Locke in enjoying the season and wants to continue to lead the way.
“I think I’ve found my groove,” he said. “I’m putting the puck in the net and taking care of the D-zone as well. There are always areas to improve on to get to the next level, but I’m pretty happy where I’m at.”