Published February 10, 2023

Vierling celebrates milestone night with game winner against Mississauga

Scored the game-winner midway through the third period of his 200th OHL game
Vierling celebrates milestone night with game winner against Mississauga

Evan Vierling made sure his milestone night Thursday in Barrie was a memorable one.

The overager, playing in his 200th OHL game, scored the game-winner midway through the third period and finished with three points to rally the Colts to a 6-4 third period come-from-behind win over the Mississauga Steelheads at Sadlon Arena.

"It was a huge goal for us and doing it in my 200th game was obviously really special for me," said Vierling, who broke a 4-4 tie with less than eight minutes remaining. "I'm proud I could help the team win in any way."

Trailing 4-3 heading into the final frame, Connor Punnett's second of the game drew the Colts even at 3:07 when he scored from a bad angle along the left boards deep in the Mississauga zone.

Vierling then recorded his fourth game-winner of the season with just under eight minutes remaining. With two Steelheads defenders unable to clear a loose puck in front, Vierling came rushing in to knock it past goalie Alessio Beglieri.

After going scoreless in nine previous games, the veteran now has two goals in his last three games.

"I just continue to work hard," said Vierling, who now has 61 goals and 175 career points. "I went through a little bit of a slump, but I knew if I worked hard and stuck to the structure I'm going to get my chances and it's going to start going in for me.

"It feels good tonight."

With the Colts locked in a fierce back-and-forth battle with their Central Division rivals, Vierling stepped up in a big way.

"He sure did," said Colts head coach Marty Williamson. "I thought he battled well tonight. His battles were good and he was physical and that's what we need from (Vierling). We need more balance to his game than just being a goal scorer for us.

"I thought he's been doing a real good job lately of being that guy I can count on."

Beau Jelsma, Jacob Frasca and Ethan Cardwell, into an empty net, also scored for Barrie (28-13-5-2), which moved seven points behind the North Bay Battalion atop the Central with two games in hand.

Innisfil native James Hardie, with a pair, Angus MacDonnell and Jack Van Volsen scored for Mississauga (24-21-4-0), who came into last night with six wins in its last eight games.

The wildly entertaining contest had the Colts up 2-0 after the opening frame, only to have the Steelheads, on the strength of a pair of power-play goals by Hardie, roar back with three straight less than four minutes apart to start the second. 

Punnett tied it, but Van Volsen put the Steelheads back up before the frame ended.

"It wasn't a picture-perfect game that a coach would want to see," said Williamson. "I didn't even like the first period even though we were up 2-0. I thought they looked quicker than us and we weren't quite ready for it.

"They wanted to play a man-on-man kind of game and I thought we started to break them down at times later in the game and do a better job."

Comebacks are nothing new of late for Barrie. The Colts who rallied in all three games last weekend to earn five of six points, did it again.

"I think it just shows the resilience of this group and the compete to never give up," said Vierling. "We just stuck to our structure and we knew that would get a couple of goals and get us our chances."

Anson Thornton made 24 stops to record his career-high 20th win, though no saves were bigger than the two he made on Hardie.

Despite giving up a pair of goals to the former Barrie minor midget, Thornton would slam the door on him on a breakaway.

Then a little more than a minute after Vierling had put Barrie on top 5-4 in the third, the Colts goaltender stoned the Mississauga sniper on a penalty shot.

"They were huge," Williamson said of the two stops.  

It was a perfect ending for a special night for Vierling. Acquired from Flint early in his second season back in late 2019, the former Firebirds second overall pick has recorded back-to-back 20-goal seasons with Barrie, including a career-high 21 goals and 57 points in just 42 games this year.

"It's pretty crazy," he said of how quick his career has flown by. "Obviously a lot of up and downs, but just being here every day and playing a sport I love is awesome. Two hundred games is a good milestone for me."

The Colts improved to 13-7-2-1 on home ice, but they've been more at home on the road this year with a 16-7-3 record away from Sadlon Arena.

"We play simpler on the road and I don't know why we try to do more in front of our fans and it just ends up kind of backfiring a little bit," said Williamson. "That's kind of the big message we got to get through. Simplify our game and just get more effective that way in managing the puck."

The Colts return to action Saturday night when they host the Kitchener Rangers. Kitchener skated to a 6-3 win on home ice the last time the two teams met a little more than two weeks ago.

"We didn't give them our best game," said Williamson of the loss. "We finished the weekend strong with Flint and Saginaw (both wins), but we sure didn't play well in Kitchener.

"So, we kind of owe them."

Game time is 7:30 p.m. ICE CHIPS: Colts captain Brandt Clarke celebrated his 20 birthday Thursday with a pair of assists and a Clarke Kent-like diving play to help save a goal. . . Ethan Cardwell crashed heavily head first into the net on his empty-net goal. He raced off the ice holding his head. "He was talking to everybody there and talking about a football pool on Sunday, so he's OK," said Williamson. . . Colts centre Cole Beaudoin left the game in the second period after a check to the head by Mississauga's Charlie Callaghan. The rookie returned in the third. . . The Colts roll into North Bay on Sunday playing their third game of the weekend against a well-rested Battalion squad. Because of the makeup of the schedule, the Colts often head to North Bay to wrap up a busy weekend, while the Battalion are well rested with one or two nights off. This weekend Barrie plays back-to-back games in 16 hours, while the Troops have two nights off after a 4-2 loss to Sarnia on Thursday. . . Frasca recorded his third three-point night in his last six games (3-8-11). . .  Shots were even 28-28. . . Steelheads were 2-for-5 on the power play, while Barrie was 1-for-3. . . Roenick Jodoin was handed a five-minute slew-footing major in the third and will miss at least the next two games. Punnett had a slew-footing major late in the second changed to a holding minor after the call was reviewed on video.

banner image: Terry Wilson, OHL Images

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