Colts rally to beat Sting 3-2 in OT and cap milestone night for head coach

The comeback helped Marty Williamson earn his 500th career OHL coaching win

With their head coach on the brink of a special milestone and their goaltender facing his old team for the first time, the Barrie Colts came through Saturday night with their best effort on home ice this season.

For a second straight night, the Colts rallied from an early two-goal deficit, this time battling back for a 3-2 overtime win over the Sarnia Sting in easily the most entertaining game of this season at Sadlon Arena.

The comeback helped Marty Williamson earn his 500th career OHL coaching win and gave goaltender Anson Thornton, who was acquired in a trade before this season, a win over his old Sarnia teammates.

“I think that shows that there’s a lot of character on this team,” said Colts overager Evan Vierling, who potted the overtime winner a night after he and his teammates rallied from a 3-1 deficit in Sudbury for a 4-3 win. “The past two games we were down and we’ve battled back. We just got to keep this going and things are going to roll for us.”

Vierling’s OT power-play winner made Williamson just the ninth coach in OHL history to reach the 500-win plateau.

In his 14th season behind the bench, Williamson joins London’s Dale Hunter as one of two active coaches with over 500 career victories.

Others in league history also include Brian Kilrea, Bert Templeton, George Burnett, Stan Butler, Larry Mavety, Dick Todd and Peter DeBoer.

Colts captain Declan McDonnell presented Williamson with the game puck in the dressing room after the game, before his teammates drenched the coach in water from head to toe.

It took a few grey hairs getting here, but Williamson cherished the special win.

“Grey hairs on you and me,” said Williamson, before laughing out loud. “I feel real lucky with all the coaches that have coached with me, and all the players. I love this game and to be around guys that just care so much like I’ve been fortunate to be around and good ownership, that’s how you get here.

“I remember speaking to Brian Kilrea about how long he lasted and he said good ownership to begin and I’ve been fortunate with that.”

It was also a special night for Thornton who was facing his former crease partner Ben Gaudreau for the first time since the June 30 trade that brought him to Barrie.

“It was an awesome game for (Thornton) beating his old team and Marty is such a great leader,” said Vierling. “It shows he’s a great coach with his 500th win.”

Thornton was outstanding and the effort helped him put behind a stretch that saw the Phoenix Coyotes prospect give up 29 goals in his last six starts, including three goals on just five shots before being pulled in the first period of a 7-2 loss to North Bay.

“He was huge in there,” said Williamson of Thornton. “I really felt for him when the first two went in. It seems like nothing’s going right for the kid a little bit with the screen shots and the weird bounces and that, but he made some big saves in the second period and really gave us a chance to get one and not get behind by anymore.

“A lot of credit to our goalies, they’re really doing a good job and we’re starting to build a better team in front of them.”

Marcus Limpa-Lantz scored just 1:19 into the game and then recently signed defenceman Lukas Fischer, with his first in the OHL, sniped a high seeing-eye shot past Thornton a little more than six minutes later to put Sarnia up 2-0 early.

The game may have turned late in the first period on a big-time hit by Connor Punnett on Sarnia’s Nolan Burke at centre ice.

The two raced for a loose puck and Punnett smashed into the Sting forward, delivering a crunching thud that could be heard around the rink and drew a heavy groan from the surrounding fans.

Burke crashed to the ice and ended up leaving the game and not returning.

“That was the biggest hit I’ve ever seen,” said Vierling. “You obviously don’t like to see a guy get hurt like that, but it was definitely a momentum changer for our team.”

The game turned especially physical after that and the intensity ramped up another notch, but the Colts (9-6-2-1) finally broke through late in the second.

Beau Jelsma cut the lead in half late in the second when he fired a cross-crease feed from Roenick Jodoin over Gaudreau’s blocker at 16:25.

Sarnia (10-6-3-1) pressed hard early in the third, but Jacob Frasca would help send it into overtime when he got a piece of Punnett’s shot from the point with 6:30 remaining.

That set the stage for Vierling.

Zach Filak took a four-minute high sticking penalty late in the game and with the game in overtime, and a little more than a minute remaining in the power play, Vierling walked into the faceoff dot to the right of Gaudreau and ripped a high drive over his right shoulder to complete the comeback.

“I think we had good movement at the top,” said the veteran who now has seven goals and 20 points in just 14 games. “Forget about the X’s and O’s there. We just had some good movement and I was lucky enough to snipe one top corner there.”

The Colts had all sorts of pressure on the power play and did a good job of shrinking the Sarnia zone down before Vierling came through with the dagger. 

“On those 4 on 3s, it just takes a special guy to be able to make that shot and that’s what Vierling did,” said Williamson, who is in his eighth season with Barrie and also spent six years with the Niagara IceDogs. “(Gaudreau’s) a heck of a goalie in there for them too. We were getting close, but it was nice to see Vierling blow it by him.”

It’s been anything but home sweet home for the Colts this season. They were 3-5 coming into the contest on home ice, with several of those being less than inspiring efforts.

The Colts certainly didn’t lack any intensity last night.

“We battled so hard,” said Vierling. “We just stuck to our game plan and we knew that something good was going to happen.”

Heading into this weekend, Barrie had just two wins in its last nine games and were coming off a lacklustre 2-1 loss in Hamilton.

Williamson said the coaching staff expressed their disappointment in a talk after the game, but since then he says the leaders have taken accountability to make the hockey team better and everybody’s giving their part.

“Just to stay in and persevere,” he said. “It seems to be a bit of trend for us getting down by two and be able to not quit, and that’s a good sign in a hockey team. I’m proud of the guys.”

The Colts are back on the road next Friday when they’re off to St. Catharines to take on the slumping Niagara IceDogs. Game time at the Meridian Centre is 7 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Sarnia outshot Barrie, 38-28. . . The Colts finished 1-for-4 on the power play, while the Sting were 0-for-3. . . The Colts complete their brief road swing next weekend in Erie on Saturday.

Banner image via Terry Wilson/OHL Images

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