Too sick to play Wednesday night in Erie, Ethan Cardwell wasn’t feeling much better less than 24 hours later.
Still, that didn’t stop the Barrie Colts winger from returning to the lineup Thursday night against the Niagara IceDogs and making an impact.
An under the weather Cardwell scored the game-winner, his 20th of the season, midway through the second period to help lead the Colts to a 4-1 win over the host IceDogs at the Meridian Centre.
With the game even at 1-1, Cardwell, who was scratched from the lineup and sent back to an Erie hotel to rest up the night before, took a cross-slot feed from Anthony Tabak and fired it past Niagara goaltender Andrew MacLean for what proved to be the deciding goal 8:20 into the second.
“No, he’s not,” Colts head coach Todd Miller replied when asked if his young forward was back to 100 percent. “He gave what he could tonight. He wasn’t at this best early on, but found a way.”
As did Luke Bignell. The Colts captain is also fighting illness and just barely got through games in Erie and Niagara.
“(Cardwell) battled through just like Bignell,” Miller added. “I can’t say enough about our captain. He was dying today and he could barely talk. He wanted to play and I wanted to shut him down.
“I finally shut him down the last seven minutes, but it’s hard to get him off the ice. Both of them wanted to play and they were so adamant, so I went with them. We’re going to give them a day off (Friday) to get a good rest.”
Aidan Brown, Josh Nelson and Nathan Allensen also scored for the Colts (24-22-3-2), who came out flat against a struggling Niagara (17-31-4-1) team that jumped in front at 12:36 of the first on a power-play goal by Jake Uberti.
Brown would tie it a little more than two minutes later when he finished off a pretty three-way passing play with Jacob Frasca and Nicholas Porco.
The Colts wouldn’t look back after that.
“We had bus legs and (facing) a team that’s really trying to do what they can to get some motivation as they’ve been struggling,” Miller said of the IceDogs, who have now lost 10 straight. “We knew what we were going to get ourselves into early on and had to get through it. We took some dumb penalties. . .
“They got that first one and we knew what we had to do and we got one late, so that kind of settled us down a bit. Into the second we kind of took over the game. We knew we had to keep pushing.”
The win moved Barrie past the idle Mississauga Steelheads into fifth spot in the Eastern Conference and the Colts are once again just two points behind the Sudbury Wolves atop the Central Division standings.
“I told them after the game, all we can control is what we’re doing at this point,” said Miller, who is 8-1-1-0 since taking over behind the bench. “If we can just stay focused on being in every game and winning these important games like tonight, we’re giving ourselves a real good chance to catch a team like Sudbury. That’s one of the main motivators right now not really thinking about Sudbury, but thinking about how we play and how we take it one game at a time.
“I know it’s cliché, but one game at a time for these young kids is all they need to look for. You look past that you’ll be in trouble.”
The Colts return home Saturday night to face another struggling division rival. The North Bay Battalion sit dead last in the OHL standings, having lost eight straight and with just two wins in their last 18 games.
“They’ve always been a thorn in our side even when they had good teams, so you can’t take anybody lightly in this league,” Miller said. “Our guys, they’re young. I try and do a good job and reiterate all the time, even tonight’s game and before (Wednesday) night’s, telling them, ‘Guys, you think we’re going to walk all over these guys, you’re not.’
“Just like North Bay, they’re going to be pushing. If you give them any life and you’re in the penalty box and give them a couple of goals, then you’re chasing the game. And we don’t want to be chasing the game.”
Puck drop at Sadlon Arena is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Jet Greaves made 33 saves to record his fourth win in his last five starts…Miller had high praise for Frasca after the game. “He’s been unbelievable,” he said of the rookie forward, who had a goal and assist. “He’s on pucks so quick. For a young kid, at 16-years-old, to be doing what he’s doing right now playing quality minutes, I can’t say enough about him. He’s a guy that sometimes goes unnoticed, but he kind of makes our team tick.”…Both Evan Vierling (7-11-18) and Tyson Foerster (9-11-20) ran their point streaks to 13 games with an assist on Allensen’s goal. Foerster has matched his earlier 13-game point streak (9-13-22), from Oct. 14 to Nov. 17…Nelson has goals in three straight games now…Defenceman Ian Lemieux celebrated his 18th birthday on Thursday…The Colts wrap up a busy stretch with a Family Day road trip to Kingston on Monday afternoon.
feature image of Ethan Cardwell via Terry Wilson/OHL Images