For Todd Miller and the Barrie Colts, a dominating 5-0 win over the Oshawa Generals, Thursday night, at Sadlon Arena was special for many reasons.
The win snapped a six-game losing streak for a young Colts team that has gone through so much adversity of late with the departure of several key veterans at the trade deadline and the firing of interim head coach Warren Rychel earlier this week.
On a night of firsts for Barrie, there was plenty to celebrate. Rookie defenceman Brandt Clarke scored his first career OHL goal, goaltender Arturs Silovs recorded his first OHL shutout, Josh Nelson had his first goal as a Colt and Miller collected his first win in his first game since taking over behind the bench for Rychel.
Through it all, Miller says he had a real good friend on his mind. And he wanted nothing more than to dedicate his first win to Dale Hawerchuk.
Hawerchuk is away from the team battling stomach cancer, but for Miller his mentor was with him all week.
“It does feel good,” Miller said about his first win. “Oshawa comes in here and they’re a pretty solid team and to have the guys buy-in and play the right way defensively was the big thing that I wanted to make sure they were aware of.
“I’m really happy with them and, to be honest with you, I’ve been thinking about Dale the last couple of days. I really wanted to make sure these guys were buying in and doing that one for him.”
It was a special night for Clarke. The fourth overall pick was still beaming long after the contest about his third-period marker, when he took a feed from Brown in the slot and fired it over the right pad of Oshawa goaltender Jordan Kooy.
After coming close on numerous occasions, he finally buried one.
“I’m ecstatic,” the 16-year-old said. “I’ve had a couple of tough bounces so far, a couple of posts, a goal called off when we played Sarnia back in October, but it felt good to finally put one in the back of the net. I’m sure I can start producing more from here on out.”
Clarke jumped several feet in the air after scoring and celebrated with anyone he could find. Miller loved every second of it for his young star.
“It was amazing to watch him get that goal,” he said. “The celebration after and then on the bench he was hugging every guy on the team. It was classic and it was the best way. I just had a feeling today too, that for some reason he might get one. Now the monkey’s off his back and people are going to see this kid even shooting more.
“He’s going to be put up some big numbers here down the stretch. We’re going to let him roll a little bit more.”
Tyson Forester scored twice and added an assist, while Luke Bignell also found the back of the net for the Colts (17-21-2-2), who moved three points behind Mississauga for second place in the Central Division standings.
Despite once again just icing three healthy lines, the Colts played as complete a game as they have all season. Specialty teams did their job, with the penalty kill holding Oshawa (22-16-3-2) scoreless on five chances, while bagging a shorthanded marker. The power-play scored once on five chances and could have buried more if not for the play of Kooy.
Silovs had at least three highlight-reel saves in blanking the visitors, while defensively the club held Oshawa to just 19 shots. Barrie carried play from the drop of the puck, outshooting the visitors, 42-19.
” It feels really good to see how they responded,” Miller said. “It’s been a long hard couple of months here and I think we’re going to start rolling now. They’re seeing that if you put the effort in, the wins come and it’s fun to come to the rink and fun to win.
“We want to keep that going.”
Clarke was just as happy for his coach on this night.
“It was (Miller’s) first game as head coach,” Clarke said. “We listened to him. He said, ‘Let’s have some fun, let’s prove some doubters wrong.’ We haven’t played the way we can lately, but tonight we definitely showed if we play like that we can be one of the top tier teams in this conference.”
The Colts return to action Saturday night when they host the Hamilton Bulldogs, before completing a busy weekend Sunday night in Oshawa.
Former Colt star and current Winnipeg Jets veteran Bryan Little will have his jersey retired in a special ceremony before the game on Saturday. Puck drop is expected to be around 7:45 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Aidan Brown and Evan Vierling each added a pair of assists in the win. . . Barrie is hoping to get some much-needed bodies back in the lineup on Saturday. Nicholas Porco (concussion) is expected back, while rookie Trey Zagrzebski will return from a suspension. Victor Hadfield (ankle), out since Dec. 14, said he’s also hoping to return on Saturday. Ryan Del Monte and Matthew Sredl remain day-to-day.
banner image of rookie Brandt Clarke via Terry Wilson/OHL Images