Colts drop heartbreaker, season over after Battalion rally late in Game 7

North Bay scores twice in third on power play to move on to Eastern Conference final

On a night they probably deserved a better fate, the Barrie Colts instead had their 2023 OHL playoff run come to a crushing end.

Kyle Jackson and Kyle McDonald scored power-play goals just under two minutes apart in the third period to rally the North Bay Battalion to a dramatic 3-1 win in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series on Tuesday night.

The Battalion win the best-of-seven series 4-3 and now move on to face the Peterborough Petes in the Eastern Conference final.

“I couldn’t be prouder. I thought we played a heck of a game,” Colts head coach Marty Williamson said of his team’s play in the seventh and deciding game. “I understand some of the (penalty) calls, but that’s not my job, I guess. It’s a tough game right now to process.”

A night after forcing Game 7 with a 4-2 win on home ice, the Colts played the near-perfect do-or-die road game. They carried the play through the first 40 minutes at the North Bay Memorial Gardens and held a 1-0 lead on a Beau Jelsma goal, before a pair of penalties gave the home side the life they needed.

Owen Van Steensel would ice the series with an empty net goal with just 47 seconds remaining.

“It’s frustrating that the calls didn’t go our way in the third,” said Colts captain Brandt Clarke after the tough loss. “They made some plays that were easily callable and some of the calls that we got were battles that could have gone either way. It’s frustrating, you don’t want to blame the game on the refs.

(North Bay) played a good game, and they’re a great team and I wish them the best of luck the rest of the way. If they win it all, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Barrie limited the hosts to just 18 shots and few chances through the opening two frames, but a checking from behind penalty to Jacob Frasca early in the third proved to be the break the Battalion needed.

Jackson took a pass inside the blue line and walked to the top of the slot where his wrister found its way past Anson Thornton for the equalizer at 4:26.

Then with North Bay back on the power play after a blindsiding penalty to Cole Beaudoin, McDonald took a feed in the middle from Ty Nelson, spun and fired the winner past Thornton.

“The two goals came quick, and I just don’t know what Frasca could have done differently for that call, and the ref is looking right at it,” said Williamson. “The guy 100-feet away makes the call, but those are the breaks of the game. We didn’t kill the penalties.

“Their last four goals were all power-play goals. You got to be good at things and have all your bases covered.”

From the start of the opening round against Hamilton when Evan Vierling, Ethan Cardwell and Connor Punnett were all out of the lineup, the Colts just couldn’t ice a full lineup throughout the playoffs.

Jelsma missed a crucial home game in this series, but the big blow was losing Vierling for the series in Game 2 after a thunderous hit by North Bay’s Paul Christopoulos.

Tough breaks for a hockey club that had one of the league’s best records in the second half of the season and believed it could take a serious run at an OHL championship.

Barrie just couldn’t stay healthy.

“That’s the way hockey goes sometimes. It’s frustrating,” said Clarke. “We had the belief that we had the team in this locker room to get the job done this year. Losing Vierling, our leading scorer, was a big blow to us.

“A lot of guys proved they can play that role when called upon, so kudos to them. But losing your top scorer, it’s a really hard thing to fill in for.”

Williamson said his team never quit despite the adversity.

“You can’t use excuses and I thought the guys that played awfully hard, but I would have loved to have Vierling in the lineup,” he said. “It was a weird playoff run. We just never seemed (to get healthy). We never quit. We played hard and that’s how it goes.”

The loss brought an end to the junior hockey career of overagers Ethan Cardwell, Declan McDonnell and Vierling.

Williamson said it was tough seeing the emotions on his players after the loss. Especially with how hard they had worked to make this a special year.

“Seeing the tears on (McDonnell) here at the end kind of breaks my heart,” said Williamson. “He’s been a warrior since we acquired him from Kitchener, and he reminds me of the (Stefan) Della Roveres and the (Anthony) Camaras that were here. These kind of guys just bleed for your hockey team.

“They play so hard and as a coach you have such appreciation for those guys.”

The loss was a crushing one for a team that came a long way since floundering to a .500 start through November. The Colts picked up their game in December and the addition of Clarke along with trades for Braden Haché and Tyler Savard at the deadline turned them into a contender.

“I agree with it,” Williamson said of the Colts having as good a chance to win a title of any of the teams remaining. “I thought our second half was as strong as anybody and Brandt was fantastic when he came back and just complimented everything we had. We’re a team that kind of needed our pieces and we were missing pieces in the playoffs and it definitely affected us.

“Those are the breaks you got to get. You got to get the health and pretty much the same lineup every game in a series. Those little things make a difference.”

Despite not achieving what they wanted, Williamson said it was certainly a year and a group he’ll long remember.

“I’m proud of these guys,” he said. “It’s been as enjoyable a coaching year as I’ve had with this group. It really was a tight group. Our chemistry was good and I think that’s what led to a lot of our success this year.”

ICE CHIPS: Had the Colts found a way to get into the conference final, they would have had Vierling back. The veteran was set to be cleared to play on Friday or Saturday. . . Barrie outshot North Bay 29-24. . . The Colts were 0-for-2 on the power play, while the Battalion finished 2-for-4. . . Dom Divencentiis stopped Jelsma on a penalty shot with just 20 seconds remaining.

banner image: Barrie Colts