The Barrie Colts’ commitment to the defensive side of the game is paying off in big ways.
Led by another strong effort in goal by Mack Guzda, the Colts for the second-straight game shut down a potent North Bay Battalion offence and completed a weekend home-and-home sweep with a 1-0 win, Sunday afternoon, at the North Bay Memorial Gardens.
Barrie (13-7-2-0), which topped North Bay, 3-2, in a shootout at home Saturday, have now won five straight to move seven points back of the Battalion atop the Central Division standings.
The Colts hold five games in hand.
“These are definitely a huge four points for us,” said forward Evan Vierling, whose shorthanded marker in the third period would provide all the offence the Colts would need on this day.
But it was Barrie’s work on shutting down a North Bay offence that gave them a much-needed sweep. The Battalion (16-8-1-2) sit third overall in goals scored this season and are led by three of the league’s top-10 scorers in Brandon Coe, Matvey Petrov and Kyle Jackson.
After giving up two goals to Petrov in the opening period Saturday, the Colts blanked the Battalion over the next five periods.
“They have an outstanding line (Coe, Petrov, and Jackson) and we knew it was going to be a big challenge for us,” Colts head coach Marty Williamson said. “I thought our guys took the challenge on. We kind of limited the odd-man rushes and tried to do our best to stay out of the penalty box and did a pretty good job the first game, not so much today, but there was a lot of good things.
“Our guys are getting the vision of what we want for this hockey team and they’re all buying in.”
“We take pride in coming to play every night,” Vierling said. “I thought we played really good defensively and we were able to capitalize when we got the chance, so it was a great couple of games by the boys.”
Guzda proved once again why the Colts went out and got the veteran in trade from Owen Sound. He was strong in both starts, holding the fort in Saturday’s shootout and then making several big stops on Sunday, including a third-period breakaway by Michael Podolioukh and foiling Coe on a big scoring chance in the last couple of minutes of the game.
“He was outstanding. . . the confidence he gives us,” Williamson said. “Our goaltending, since the trade, has been at the top of the league. (Matteo) Lalama had a great start for us in Sudbury, and we’re really confident with that position now, and our whole game has seemed to come around now a little bit because of it.
“We take a little bit more pride in our defensive game and helping him. The shot count, even though he made some great saves for us, we only gave up 26 shots on five power-plays, so we’re doing some things pretty well.”
The game was scoreless thanks in large part to both Guzda and North Bay goalie Dom DiVincentiis before the Battalion got a key opportunity to take the lead past midway through the third when Cooper Matthews was sent off for tripping.
It was the Colts, though, that would strike while shorthanded. Ethan Cardwell’s was stopped on a breakaway, but the rebound was kicked out straight to a trailing Vierling who rifled it upstairs for the winner at 12:30.
“(Nathan) Allensen got the puck out to (Cardwell) and went on a breakaway there and he made a nice little shot-pass off a pad right on my tape and I was fortunate to bury it,” said Vierling on his eighth goal of the season.
The shorthanded marker was the first by Barrie this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
We’ve had some chances and kind of joked about it as a coaching staff, and it’s nice to see us finally get one,” Williamson said.
The Colts kick off their final weekend before the Christmas break on Thursday night against the Sudbury Wolves. It’ll be a special night as the Colts pay tribute to former head coach Dale Hawerchuk.
Barrie wraps up the weekend on the road with a stop in Kingston on Friday and Ottawa on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s our first overnight road trip and really I think it’s coming at a good time,” Williamson said.
“I think the timing is good. We feel good about ourselves and hopefully we got a huge event planned for Thursday with the (Hawerchuk) ceremony and have a real good game there and take it on the road for the final two.”
Game time Thursday is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Williamson, who moved into 10 overall in all-time OHL coaching wins on Saturday, praised those who have helped him get there. “I really feel blessed with the players that have gone through that milestone,” he said. “It’s one thing to coach, but to have the quality of people that I’ve been associated with to go through that, that’s what kind of makes it special.” . . . Barrie outshot North Bay, 30-26. . . Both teams were scoreless on five power-play chances. . . Guzda’s shutout was his first with the Colts.
feature image – Evan Vierling via Terry Wilson – OHL Images