At least one large group of fans went home happy following the Friday night OHL encounter at the Sudbury Arena.
With several hundred Valley East and area supporters on hand for the game, local product Damien Giroux capped off a memorable night, netting his seventh goal of the season, a short-handed tally no less, in helping to lead the visiting Saginaw Spirit to a 6-3 win over the Sudbury Wolves.
For his efforts, the 2016 third round pick of the Spirit was named the game's third star, just the latest highlight in what has been a memorable rookie campaign. "It's still so surreal, having the opportunity to play in this league as a 16 year-old," noted Giroux earlier in the day.
"I've exceeded my expectations. The way I've developed, the way I've learned from the older guys, it's been an unbelievable experience. I'm really proud of what I've accomplished so far."
Judging from the love affair with a solid portion of the crowd on hand for the game on Friday, that pride seems shared on a local level, as Giroux continues to evolve, understanding the finer nuances of junior hockey play.
"Since I've begun in the league, the "ten foot game" has been huge," said Giroux. "Small area plays, whether it's just chipping a puck out of the zone, or making a little two foot pass to someone ahead of you."
"Those are really the keys to a team's success, and the better you can develop in those areas, the more your team will actually succeed. The higher that you play, the more you realize that, the more you bear down in those areas."
A true student of the game at every level that he has played, Giroux sees no good reason to stop learning as he makes the jump directly from the minor midget ranks. "Honestly, I'm approaching the season like a sponge, trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can, trying to learn from the game as much as possible."
"I'm really just trying to develop into the best possible player that I can be, offensive and defensive, with or without the puck." Part of a very young core that the 16-20-6-2 Saginaw squad look to grow in the next few years, Giroux has already garnered a small taste of what it would be like to play NHL hockey.
"We played Windsor in the "Farewell to the Joe", said Giroux, recalling their OHL game earlier this season hosted at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. "We actually got to use the Detroit Red Wings' locker room, which was awesome."
"Getting to experience what it's like to be an NHL player for a day was a truly unforgettable moment," - one which will now rank right up there with his very first OHL game in his own hometown.
Hayden Hodgson paced the attack for the Spirit, drilling a pair of markers, with Filip Hronek, Cole Coskey, Brady Gilmour and Giroux, of course, rounding things off.
David Levin, Alan Lyszczarczyk and Owen Lane replied for the Wolves, who closed off a disapointing two game weekend, one night after bowing to the North Bay Battalion 6-3 in the Gateway City.
Still sitting second in the Central Division with a record of 19-21-5-0, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Wolves lacked a sense of urgency to their game, one they surely hope to recapture heading into a weekend that sees them hosting the Peterborough Petes on Friday, and then heading to the Hershey Centre to face the Mississauga Steelheads on Sunday.