The roster has been trimmed down to 28 from 40-plus players, but some of the toughest decisions lie ahead for Barrie Colts general manager and head coach Marty Williamson.
With training camp and a 4-2 exhibition win over the Owen Sound Attack earlier this week behind them, Williamson says he and the coaching staff are feeling pretty good with what they’ve seen from their OHL club.
Still, key decisions remain and perhaps none tougher to make than when it comes to deciding who will occupy the overage roster spots among the five overagers in camp.
Returning forwards Nicholas Porco and Anthony Tabak, at and returning defencemen Nathan Allensen and Matthew Hill, are competing along with goaltender Tanner Wickware for just three spots.
“All four of them have come in and were leaders during camp,” Williamson said of his returnees. “They did everything right. All four are great kids and this is the toughest thing. All four, it would have been great working with them last year, but we are going to have to make some tough decisions there and see what fits are our hockey team best.
“It even gets harder obviously with an overage goalie.”
While Williamson could carry an extra overager into the season and has the option of not dressing an overage goalie some games, he’s already explored trade talks.
“Teams have talked to us and all these guys can definitely play in the league, so if it’s not with us they’ll be playing with somebody else,” he said.
While he could start the season with four, he admits it’s not an ideal situation for the veteran players.
“It gets a little difficult and nobody’s ever happy in those situations,” Williamson said. “We’ll see kind of where the market is going and what the availability is for these guys and other opportunities, or do we need to give up a longer opportunity with us.”
- Barrie Colts’ Clarke and Cardwell picked up at NHL Entry Draft
- Barrie Colts open OHL home campaign against Niagara Oct. 7
Goaltending also figures into the overage spot with Wickware and Williamson admits he, goaltending coach David Belitski and the rest of the staff are still trying to get a clear picture in the crease.
Matteo Lalama, Matteo Caruso, who the Colts signed on Tuesday, and Wickware are with the team and will be joined next week by Benjamin Bonisteel, who was drafted ninth overall in the 2020 U18 OHL draft.
“We’re going to be patient,” Williamson said. “I don’t know if we learned a lot through the training camp. Now exhibition games will start and that’s where we’ll learn more.
“We’ll start to get a feel for these guys whether they can handle the competition and that.”
There’s little doubt the staff would love to see Wickware grab a hold of the starting role.
“Wickware was OK,” Williamson said of the goalie’s performance in camp. “He looks a little quicker and a little more put together. He does take up an overage spot, so we need him to be better than just OK.”
Williamson has been impressed with the six-foot-four Caruso, though he believes the young draft pick would be more suited as a third goalie this year and step into a bigger role next season.
“He’s been very impressive,” he said of Caruso.
Williamson said the club has been doing its homework and have already talked to teams to see who may be available on the trade market.
The GM says a couple of teams with top goalies he’s expressed interest in have told him if they move them it will likely won’t be until December and that depends on how their respective teams are faring.
Williamson is hoping the answer in net for what he believes is a contending team comes from the current roster.
“Do we need a stop-gap to get us to December? Can our guys do it? Those are the kind of questions, with patience, that will play out for us.”
As for pleasant surprises at this year’s camp, Williamson points to Roenick Jodoin. The diminutive five-foot-six, 150-pound forward, who was drafted in the eighth round last year, was signed by the club earlier this week after a strong training camp.
“He’s just a ball of energy,” the Colts head coach said of Jodoin, who he describes as a combination of former dynamic smaller Colts forwards Vladimir Nikiforov, Tyson Fawcett, Lucas Chiodo and Colin Behenna
“He can score, he can fly, he’s fearless,” Williamson continued. “He was impressive at camp. I think he’s got enough skill that he can move up the lineup and play with skilled guys if we take an injury or two and he can also do a good role at the bottom of the lineup for energy.
“Training camp is one thing and exhibitions are another. So far he’s done very well in the first step and we want him part of our organization long term. We think he’s going to be a very good 18-, 19-, 20-year-old.”
Williamson has also been impressed with the play of young forwards Hunter Haight, Ryan Del Monte, Chris Grisolia, Cooper Matthews and Beau Jelsma.
“The young kids came in and did their job,” he said. “They look like there’s a learning curve with them, but they showed lots of potential and we see the skill.
“We saw Grisolia and we liked everything we saw. I thought Del Monte is in good shape. He looks stronger and had a good camp for us. We’ll just see how it all translates.”
Williamson is also excited with what he saw from several of the team’s prospects who didn’t make the club. None impressed him more than forward Tai York.
“In any other year he makes the OHL team,” Williamson said of the five-foot-nine, 147-pound forward who was a sixth-round pick in 2020. “Tai had a really good camp.”
York will spend this season with the Cobourg Cougars where Williamson says he will be in the good hands of former Erie Otters assistant coach Wes Wolfe.
“He just gets a little stronger, I think he’s a home run,” the Colts head coach said. “I just think playing lots in Cobourg will have an advantage instead with us kind of manipulating his ice time and trying to get him on the team. He was extremely impressive.
“I told him when we made our decision that he’s going to be a Barrie Colt.”
Zachary Wigle, a ninth-round pick in 2020, is also still with the club after a strong camp. Williamson said he expects to make a decision on the young forward before Friday’s exhibition game in Kitchener.
“It’s the same situation with him,” he said. “It would be better to go to Oakville and play a lot. He’ll be in their top-six forwards and then step into our lineup next year when we need these guys.”
Ben Pickell, a third-round pick this season, will also be a Colt in the future.
“Our young talent, and credit to our scouts, is, I think, off the charts,” Williamson said. “It’s as deep as I’ve ever seen it. We feel good about this team and for years to come.”
The Colts still have 10 defenceman on the roster, though import Artur Cholach and Florida native David Burri have yet to arrive at camp.
While the overage situation could pare that number down, Williamson knows moves will have to be made there.
“I need to learn about these guys,” he said. “Get on the bench with them and go through some games with them and we’ll have a better idea of the direction. Obviously, Burri and Cholach haven’t come in yet, so we really don’t have lay of the land.
“We have some really nice elements of puck carriers and guys that can punish a bit and just be harder to play against, so it’s a nice group. But we are going to have some tough decisions down the road. We got too many defencemen.”
After Friday’s game in Kitchener, this weekend’s home-and-home exhibition set against the Rangers returns to Sadlon Arena on Saturday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Williamson said Lalama and Caruso will split the goaltending duties in Friday’s exhibition game in Kitchener. . . Forwards Evan Vierling, with the New York Rangers, and Tyson Foerster, with the Philadelphia Flyers, are with their respective NHL clubs. . . Swedish import Oskar Olausson is likely to join the Colorado Avalanche camp before heading north to Barrie. . . Oliver Smith, who had a bit of a slow start to camp, scored in Monday’s win over Owen Sound.
images: Veteran forward Nicholas Porco is one of five overagers on the Barrie roster – Terry Wilson/OHL Images