If the Barrie Colts needed a reminder that you can’t take any opponent lightly, they got one Saturday night from the last-place team in the OHL.
A poor start put them in an early hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of and the struggling North Bay Battalion, behind a strong effort in net by rookie Joe Vrbetic, would stun the Colts, 4-0, at Sadlon Arena.
Barrie came into the night having won five of its last six games and facing a North Bay club that had lost eight straight and won just two of its last 18 games, but you would have never guessed that after the first period.
North Bay scored three times and then, thanks in large part to Vrbetic and some strong penalty kill work, held off Barrie the rest of the way.
“It was tough,” Colts overager Aidan Brown said of the disappointing loss. “Anyone in this league can win on any given night. That was a prime example. We didn’t come out ready and they did. We lost a game that we were all hoping and trying to win.”
Barrie (24-23-3-2) could have moved back to within two points of the Sudbury Wolves atop the Central Division standings with a win. With just 16 games remaining in the OHL regular-season schedule, the Colts can ill afford efforts like these if they want to track down the Wolves.
“That for sure is a wake-up call,” Brown said of the loss. “Those are two points we wish we had, but I think it shows the guys in the room. We got a pretty young group. Some guys haven’t been in the league long enough to see that kind of stuff can happen.
“Now that it has, I think we’ll be on a better foot.”
Brandon Coe, Shane Bulitka, Josh Currie and Barrie native Mitch Russell, into an empty net, scored for North Bay (12-38-3-0), which evened the season series with Barrie at 2-2.
The Battalion came in having given up a league high 278 goals this season, but Vrbetic was unbeatable on this night, kicking aside all 41 shots he faced and making several highlight-reel stops en route to recording his first OHL shutout.
The Colts had all sorts of opportunities to get back in this one with nine power-play chances, including a pair of lengthy two-man advantages, but the Battalion rookie goaltender came up big time-after-time.
“We had a decent amount of shots and some good opportunities, but (Vrbetic) stood on his head tonight and the team played well in front of him,” Colts winger Nicholas Porco said.
After the dismal opening period, Barrie outshot North Bay, 21-9, in the second, but they couldn’t breakthrough.
“He was really good in net, but we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get our passes on the tape. I can’t take that penalty on the power play, that’s on me. I told the guys I’m sorry for that one. We just got to get our passes on the tape and play our game, and we know we can win.”
At six-foot-six, Vrbetic covers much of the net and the Colts couldn’t find an opening all night. Brown said he and his teammates have to be better when it comes time to shooting.
“We just got to pick our corners,” he said. “It seems like we’re missing the net so much. Sometimes when we shoot, we’re just shooting it on net. Not to score goals, just to get it on net.
“I think if we can just keep getting shots on net and keep it low, six inches off the ice just under the glove and blocker, we should come on top.”
The Colts are back in action on Monday afternoon when they hit the road to take on a Kingston Frontenacs team that has dropped four straight and sits just one point behind the Niagara IceDogs for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Porco believes it’s best he and his teammates learn from Saturday’s loss and move on.
“It’s super important,” he said of putting the loss aside. “We’re going to head to Kingston with a positive mindset that we’re going to get this back on track here. We’re confident in the room that we’re working on something special here and we’ll turn it around.”
Game time at the Leon’s Centre is 2 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Jet Greaves made 29 saves in goal for Barrie. . . As part of their 25th-anniversary celebrations, the Colts honoured general manager and head scout Jason Ford at centre ice before the game. . . Saturday’s shutout brought the end to the 13-game scoring streaks by Barrie’s Tyson Foerster and Evan Vierling.
feature image of North Bay goaltender Joe Vrbetic courtesy Terry Wilson/OHLImages