Published April 6, 2024

‘Gutsy effort’ helps Colts live to fight another day

Hillebrandt, Aitcheson, Stewart all come up big in win over Oshawa
Barrie Colts

Sam Hillebrandt is sleeping in on Saturday morning.

Just minutes after the rookie goaltender was brilliant in stopping all 47 shots he faced to help the Barrie Colts stave off playoff elimination with a huge 3-0 road win on Friday night over the Oshawa Generals, Hillebrandt was ready to get some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

“I’m going to try and drink as much as water and Gatorade as possible to stay as hydrated as I can and get as much sleep as possible,” said the 19-year-old Riverview Florida native with a chuckle when asked if its time to hit the sack.

Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the bedroom door as Hillebrandt needs to catch up on some sleep after a stunning performance on back-to-back nights where he turned aside 99 of 103 shots he faced over almost seven full periods.

“He was a rock in there,”

Colts' head coach Marty Williamson said of Hillebrandt, who also sparkled in Thursday night’s 4-3 overtime loss.

“He really made us feel secure. Unless it was something that was greasy, it looked like he was just going to get his body in front of everything.”

Locked in a scoreless battle late in the third period with Generals goalie Jacob Oster in front of 6,019 fans at the Tribute Communities Centre, Hillebrandt was determined not to give up a goal.

He held the fort during a five-on-three Oshawa power play and then watched as Kashawn Aitcheson scored the game-winner with 4:32 remaining and Zach Wigle and Cole Beaudoin sealed it with empty-net goals to cut the OHL best-of-seven first-round series to 3-2 and force a Game 6 back in Barrie on Sunday night at 6 p.m.

“You don’t try to think about it as the game goes on,” Hillebrandt said of the shutout. “It’s kind of in the back of your mind, but you definitely want to have a big statement game after last night’s heartbreaker in overtime.”

The Colts made plenty of statements on this night. Once again, the resilient young club who came into the series as the heavy underdogs showed, as they have since the OHL Trade Deadline back in January, they’re not about to quit.

Despite facing adversity like having their tying goal with eight seconds remaining in Game 2 ruled no goal and then drawing a late penalty before giving up a tying goal in the dying seconds of  Game 3 and losing in overtime to put them on the brink of the end of their hockey season, the Colts have made this series a lot longer than anyone expected.  

“I’m so proud of the guys,” said Williamson. “That’s a gutty game and to kill that five-on-three and to get a goalie performance like we did, there was a lot of good things.”

Booed all night, like in most visiting buildings because of his physicality on the blueline, Aitcheson, on the power play, would get Barrie all the offence it needed thanks to Hillebrandt and a beauty setup by Bode Stewart.

Stewart made a nice move around Rasmus Kumpulainen at centre ice, skated over the blueline and cut to the left side before outwaiting a diving Luca Marrelli and sliding it across to a charging Aitcheson who banged it past Oester at the back post.

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“That’s what we needed,” Williamson said of the effort by Stewart on the winner. “We needed someone to grab the puck and make a play and he was the guy tonight. He made a big play at the blueline, a big play by Wigle to keep his foot onside, and then Aitch to finish it.”

Wigle just stretched to keep onside as Stewart was streaking across the blueline.

“I was starting to get antsy,” admitted Williamson of the lengthy review. “Then when the crowd cheered, what I was looking at was that’s us. We’re OK here. Then I said to myself is somebody else offside on the other side of the ice because I was watching Wigle close. Anyway, the right call was made.”

The power-play winner came some five minutes after the Colts had killed a full two-minute two-man Oshawa power play. Barrie’s specialty units were among the worst all season and those struggles had continued through the playoffs, but both units came up big with the Colts’ season on the line.

“It was pretty ironic,” said Williamson of both specialty teams coming up huge at crucial moments. “The winning goal was a power play too. Both our specialty teams have been a nightmare and tonight it was the difference in this game.

“It’s ironic how it works out sometimes.”

Hillebrandt said it was a bend, but don’t break approach by he and his teammates.

“We’re going to give up chances as every team does throughout a game, but you just got to be patient and wait for our chances and we finally cashed in,” said the game’s first star. “Then absolutely after that goal it was kind of one shot at a time as the last couple of minutes winded down.”

Barrie might be considered the heavy underdogs to the Eastern Conference first-place finishers in this series, but Hillebrandt said he and his teammates didn’t come into the series just to push them a little.

Winning has always been the focus and to do that they need to find a way once again at Sadlon Arena on Sunday night.

 “We want to come out and we want to play our best,” said Hillebrandt. “We didn’t come in here just to say we gave them a good run. We want to be able to come out of this series saying, ‘Yeah, we won and did what we were supposed to do, and we’ll move on to the next round.’”

Williamson said he knows his team will leave it all out there once again.

“We’re going to go out there and play a hell of a game Sunday and let the chips fall where they fall,” he said. “We got to get (Game 6) first and that’s what our focus is. Get some rest for the guys.

“Try to go over some things that we’ll try to get a little better at and just get back to our building where we’re comfortable.”

ICE CHIPS: Oshawa fans were yelling at Aitcheson as headed off the ice to the dressing room after the contest. . . The Colts are glad Aitcheson was able to return after he took a check to the head early in the second period from Beckett Sennecke. Aitcheson left the game shortly and Sennecke was handed a five-minute major and game misconduct. “We’ll see if any suspensions are handed out,” said Williamson. “This one checked all the boxes. It was a 100 per cent targeted to the head and we’re very lucky there was no injury on the play. We’ll see what the league does.” . . . Oshawa outshot Barrie 47-26. . . Jelsma, who has four goals and two assists, was held off the scoresheet for the first time in the series. . . Barrie was 1-for-4 on the power play, while Oshawa was scoreless on four chances.

Banner image via the Barrie Colts

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