Missing five of his top six veteran forwards, Barrie Colts general manager and head coach Marty Williamson expected the learning curve would be a steep one for his young lineup.
The patience that will be required was clearly evident Thursday night in a 5-2 loss to the Kingston Frontenacs at Sadlon Arena.
“We got four different lines and we know there’s going to be a few growing pains,” Williamson said. “To get chemistry going with 11 rookie forwards, we have to live with it a little bit.”
Kingston (23-10-3-0) broke open a close 1-0 game with three more goals in a dominating second to hand Barrie (20-11-4-0) its third-straight loss.
“They found a way to squeak a few in there in the second and got us behind the eight ball a little bit, but I liked our energy in the third,” said Williamson, whose club got both of its goals in the final frame while outshooting the Frontenacs 17-4. “We came out focused on what we had to do and only gave up four shots.
“We got a little loose in the second and they capitalized. Even the goal in the third period we had opportunities to get that out and we didn’t.”
Top NHL prospect Shane Wright led the way for the Frontenacs with a goal and assist. Nathan Poole, Jordan Frasca, on the power play, Braden Hache and Francesco Arcuri also scored for Kingston, which has now won six of its last seven games
Hunter Haight and Beau Jelsma, on the power play, replied for the Colts, whose forward group has been decimated by a combination of suspensions and injuries.
The latest blow came when the OHL announced Thursday that Ethan Cardwell was suspended for a whopping 15 games after his nudge on the back of Tanner Dickinson in a game last Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie led to the Hounds forward breaking his right femur.
The day before the Colts discovered they would be without another winger from their top line when the league announced an eight-game suspension for Declan McDonnell. This after the Tampa Bay prospect delivered a late, high hit at centre ice on Sudbury’s Evan Konyen last Sunday.
They join Jacob Frasca (shoulder), Evan Vierling (shoulder) and Ryan Del Monte (head) in leaving a big hole up front on offence.
Haight knows that also means a big opportunity for young players like himself.
“There’s a lot of core guys in our lineup that were out tonight and are arguably out for the next little bit, so it’s our job to step up and play our systems,” said Haight, who has now scored in five straight games. “I think we’ll be able to with the lineup we have. It’s a good group of guys, even if some of them are young.”
Simplifying things on offence and not trying to make that extra play will be key for the young group. An example of that came in the second when rookie Tai York had an open lane to the net, but tried to make the pass across on what was a golden scoring opportunity.
“That’s just some rookie mistakes,” Williamson said of York’s decision. “There’s a lot being thrown at them. You got to kind of let them make the mistakes and grow from it. All I kind of want is energy and keep the game as simple as possible.
Put more pucks to the net, make less passes and chip pucks in. They’re making the game still a little bit tough on themselves. Hopefully we can correct those and get better for the weekend.”
Haight is certainly one of the young forwards Williamson will be looking to for offence and he has certainly been delivering of late.
The former ninth overall pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection has now scored in eight of his last 12 games.
“It’s good,” he said of getting a bigger role and power-play time. “I think I’m starting to play my game now and I think I’m coming along in terms of where my game is headed.”
The Colts had some chances to cut the lead to two and perhaps get back in this one late in the second, but instead Wright beat Mac Guzda to make it a 4-0 game and put the Frontenacs in command.
“It went off our defenceman’s stick and 3-1 to 4-0 makes a big difference,” Williamson said. “We could have chiseled one and not given up a fourth, but they played hard and we just got to keep getting better. “The challenge in that third period was don’t play the scoreboard, let’s just get better and have a good practice (Friday) and just keep improving. Get some chemistry going on a couple of lines and see if we can improve that way.”
The Colts kick off a home-and-home weekend with the Oshawa Generals on Saturday night in Barrie.
“Oshawa is a great team as well and I think if we just stick to what we have and play to our strengths that will bring success,” Haight said. “Keep it simple.”
Game time Saturday is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Thursday’s game was the first home for Barrie with lessened COVID-19 restrictions that allowed them to welcome in 500 fans. . . Nathan Allensen recorded his 100th career point with an assist on Haight’s goal. The overager, who added another assist later in the third, extended his point streak to six games (2-9-11). . . The Colt were 1-for-6 on the power play, while the Frontenacs scored in their lone opportunity. . . Barrie native Alex Belanger had a pair of assists for Kingston.
feature image – Terry Wilson/OHL Images