Aitcheson gets first OHL goal, helps Colts eliminate Frontenacs from playoff contention
Cardwell records 200th career point in win
As Kashawn Aitcheson spun around, dropped on his right knee and screamed in jubilation, the smile that followed said it all.
“I haven’t seen a smile that big in a long time,” said Barrie Colts head coach Marty Williamson after watching the rookie celebrate his first career OHL goal in a 5-2 win over the Kingston Frontenacs, Friday night at the Leon’s Centre.
A smile that lit up the rink.
“Yeah, for sure,” said Aitcheson, recalling the special moment.
“Big weight off my shoulders.”
The smiles and celebration were just as big on the Barrie bench.
His teammates had been trying to get him the puck over the last couple of weeks and it finally paid off in the third period when Cole Beaudoin, in the corner, found Aitcheson sneaking in from the blueline.
“The coaching staff and the entire team, we’re happy for him,” said Williamson. “He’s a great kid and he’s going to be a great Barrie Colt for a lot of years.
“They all want to get off that zero and get that goal, and it was a nice goal. He did a good job. He snuck in and buried it.”
It was a big goal, as well. It tied the game at 2-2 early in the third period and it propelled the Colts (42-16-6-3) to a win that eliminated the Frontenacs (26-38-1-2) from playoff contention.
The 16-year-old had worked hard on his shot at practice all year. He had been trying to get into scoring areas and watched and listened to teammate and Los Angeles Kings prospect Brandt Clarke every day at practice to learn from him.
A healthy scratch since Dec. 30, Aitcheson returned to the lineup last Saturday and was determined to make the most of his opportunity.
“I’ve been joining the rush, working a lot more offence and today it finally went in,” said the Colts third-round pick in 2022, who has played just 22 games in his first season.
“It felt really good to tie it up and it was a big goal too,” Aitcheson added. “All the boys are fired up to eliminate a pretty good young team we’re looking forward to the next game and the playoffs.”
The Frontenacs, who needed to win to keep pace with the Oshawa Generals and give them a chance to earn the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, got off to a good start on goals by Maddox Callens and Linus Hemstrom to lead 2-0 after the first period.
Resting several key players, including Clarke, in a meaningless game for them, the Colts came to life in the second when Roenick Jodoin cut the lead in half late in the frame.
After Aitcheson’s earlier equalizer in the third, a deflection off of Jacob Frasca at 6:41 proved to be the winner.
Ethan Cardwell, for his 200th career point, and Evan Vierling, scored into an empty net as the Colts scored five unanswered goals to complete the comeback.
“I thought we wondered in the first period and weren’t quite connected to the game, but I thought we played a really good second and third,” Williamson said of his team’s ability to bounce back.
“It was just a lot of push and a lot of good legs and Vierling and Cardwell were leading the way. We had a lot of guys out of the lineup, but a lot of guys stepped up and played real well.”
With just two days remaining in the season, the Colts still have no idea who they will meet in the opening round. The number of possible teams is down to three after the Peterborough Petes clinched fourth place and home ice in the first round.
Barrie’s first-round opponent will be one of Hamilton, Mississauga or Sudbury.
“It’s going to go until Sunday, right to the Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury game to some extent,” said Williamson. “I’m not too concerned about it. We just want to come out of the Ottawa game healthy and whatever happens on Sunday, happens on Sunday.”
In a moving moment after the game, the Colts skated over to Kingston overage defenceman Ian Lemieux to hug him and congratulate their former teammate on his junior career.
With the Frontenacs eliminated, Lemieux has one final game Sunday in Oshawa.
“He was a great teammate and we had nothing but appreciation for Ian and for what he did for our organization,” said Williamson. “He was there talking and patting all the guys coming off the ice, so it was great to see.”
Aitcheson admits it was tough seeing his teammate traded at the deadline.
“It was nice seeing him do so well and having fun,” the rookie said of Lemieux, who played two seasons for Barrie. “We gave him his props for having a great career and being a good guy.”
The Colts wrap up their 2022-23 regular season schedule Saturday afternoon when they go to the Nation’s Capital to take on the Ottawa 67’s.
Game time at TD Place is 2 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Cardwell, Frasca, Vierling and Clarke will be among several regulars sitting out on Saturday. Vierling, who had a goal and two assists, finishes his final OHL season on a 16-game point streak (13-24-37). The centre recorded a career-high 35 goals and 60 assists for 95 points in 60 games and sits fourth overall in league scoring heading into the final weekend. Cardwell, who is on a 13-game scoring streak (15-10-25), finishes the season with 43 goals and 47 assists for 90 points. He’s currently tied with three other players for ninth overall in scoring. The Sharks prospect finishes his career with 94 goals and 106 assists in 189 games . . . Oshawa’s 3-2 win in Mississauga clinched a playoff berth for the Generals and rendered Sunday’s game against Kingston meaningless. . . Ben West made 22 saves in goal for Barrie to record his 12th win.
Banner image via Josh Kim – Barrie Colts rookie Cole Beaudoin battles Kingston Frontenacs forward Owen Outwater as the two fight for position going down the ice