Published April 15, 2023

Kavanagh plays role of hero as OT winner gives Colts series opener in North Bay

Win first at North Bay Memorial Gardens for Barrie this season
Josh Kavanagh - Barrie Colts

Josh Kavanagh took a licking sticking up for a teammate early in Friday night's OHL Eastern Conference semifinal series opener in North Bay, but the defenceman and his Barrie Colts got all the justice they needed in overtime.

Kavanagh, who had one goal all regular season, scored 1:49 into overtime to complete a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Battalion and give the Colts the early lead in the best-of-seven-series.

Game 2 returns to the North Bay Memorial Gardens on Sunday afternoon.

Kavanagh's big moment proved a nice reward for coming to the aid of teammate Artur Cholach in the opening period after the Ukrainian import was drilled into the boards behind the Barrie net by North Bay captain Liam Arnsby.

Kavanagh jumped Arnsby and while he got the worse of the fight, he would later get what Colts head coach Marty Williamson believes is his just reward for sticking up for his teammate.

"Fantastic," Williamson said of his blueliner getting the winner. "Sticking up for a guy like he did is a little hockey justice with him turning around and getting the winner like he did. It couldn't happen to a nicer kid.

"What he does for us, you could just tell by the emotions of the guys just how happy they were for him."

For Kavanagh, he was just doing what a good teammate would do.

"I saw my defence partner get blown up and I just wanted to make sure that he doesn't want to do that again. I took charge and whatever happens, happens in the fight and it was nice to get rewarded with that goal."

Kavanagh was the beneficiary of a strong forecheck by Colts overagers Ethan Cardwell and Evan Vierling on the winner.

Cardwell, who signed a three-year entry level deal earlier in the day with the San Jose Sharks, fought off Arnsby behind the net for the puck and slid it to Vierling.

The Colts forward spotted Kavanagh creeping in from the point and put it right on the tape of his stick. The veteran ripped it over Battalion goalie Dom DiVincentiis for the winner.

"It feels great," said the 19-year-old, who got to have his big moment in front of his mom and dad, uncle and aunt and grandparents who were all in the stands.

"With those guys, it's crazy. They're elite players," Kavanagh said of Vierling and Cardwell. "I know my role and it's nice to get a game winner once in a while."

Vierling and Cardwell have come up big all season and continue to do so in the playoffs.

"That's the kind of plays we need from those guys," said Williamson. "They were able to find the open guy and we got the goal, so I'm proud of the whole team.

"I thought we played pretty solid in the third and we worked our way back into this game and started feeling real good about ourselves."

The Battalion had won five of six games between the two Central Division rivals and it looked liked things would stay the same in the playoffs when a tentative Colts team fell behind on a first-period power-play goal by Ty Nelson and an early second-period marker by Owen Van Steensel.

But a strong effort in goal by Anson Thornton - Barrie was outshot 30-14 in the opening two periods - allowed the goals to gain their footing until they got the forecheck going.

Roenick Jodoin got things going just past midway through the second period when he stole the puck behind net from Luc Brzustowski, walked out and found Wigle, who ripped it shortside past blocker of DiVincentiis to cut the lead in half.

The Colts continued with a strong third and got the equalizer just under three minutes in when Clarke spun around inside the faceoff circle to the right of DiVincentiis, walked into the slot and ripped a shot over the glovehand of the Winnipeg Jets prospect.

"We're not a team that plays well sitting back," said Williamson. "We have to be on our toes and playing 60-minute hockey. We had a couple of big hits early that got us a little off-kilter early.

"1-0 wasn't the worse thing in the world and 2-0 wasn't the worst thing in the world and we needed to play a good third period and we did."

Barrie looked as though it had taken a 3-2 lead on the power play midway through the period when Jacob Frasca, parked in front, finished off a pretty three-way passing play with Clarke and Cardwell, but the play was ruled offside after a review.

Both teams had chances to win it late, but it was Kavanagh who would play the overtime hero.

"Everyone is saying we're the underdog and we don't believe that, but to go in someone else's barn and deal with their fans and kind of let that sink in, after we did that I think we took charge again," said Kavanagh.

All year the two rivals battled and the Battalion would hold off the Colts for the Central Division title and home ice advantage in the second round, but that's gone now.

Williamson is happy his team found a way in Game 1, but knows the battle is only beginning.

"Every game is a Game 7," he said. "I know we get home ice (advantage), but every game is going to be a battle and you got to find a way to win games and you got to find a way to win four of them in however many games it takes.

"It's nice to get the first one, that's for sure. We got the day off (Saturday), we can enjoy ourselves. We all said (in the room) we all got to stay focused and understand how tough the next game is going to be."

Game time Sunday is 2 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Games 3 and 4 are back in Barrie Tuesday and Thursday night at Sadlon Arena. . . North Bay went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Colts were scoreless on six chances, including a two-man advantage in the third. "We'll get some power-play goals," said Williamson. "We had some good looks, we just got to keep persevering. I thought the penalty killing was good and our best penalty killer Thornton was fantastic for us.". . . North Bay outshot Barrie 41-30. . . The win was the first for Barrie in North Bay this season on four tries. . . Vierling had two assists and now has 12 pts (1G, 11A) in just six games. . . Clarke continues to lead the OHL in playoff scoring (6-12-18) and has recorded at least a point in all six games he's played.

Banner image via Josh Kim

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