Thursday night may have been just what the doctor ordered for a Barrie Colts team that has had its share of early-season struggles this season.
Coming off a 3-0 shutout loss last week to the Ottawa 67’s, the Colts exploded for five first-period goals and never looked back en route to a 7-3 win over the Sudbury Wolves at Sadlon Arena.
“It feels good to finally get a breakout game,” said veteran defenceman Nathan Allensen, whose three-point night included his first goal of the season, which proved to be the game-winner. “We’ve kind of been struggling here as of late, but to get this one and get this whole team going it felt good.
“We kind of just established things from the (Ottawa) game that we didn’t like, like turnovers, and I thought we were a lot better on that tonight. Our game rose to the next level and it just shows what we’re capable of.”
Evan Vierling, Nicholas Porco, with his first of two on the night, Brandt Clarke, Allensen, and Oliver Smith all scored in what may been Barrie’s best opening 20 minutes of any game this season.
“We came out real hard and real determined and it was nice to get the goals early, and then I thought we just settled down and played a real solid game,” Colts head coach Marty Williamson said. “We got pucks deep and didn’t give up too many odd-man rushes and played the right way.
“I was happy with the guys that we didn’t get too greedy and give up the few things that we gave up. We can even correct on those, so it was a pretty positive game to start the weekend.”
The win snapped a two-game losing skid for the Colts (3-4-1) and provided a much-needed boost of confidence after coming off a frustrating loss against Ottawa where, despite several quality chances, they couldn’t get a puck past 67’s goalie Will Cranley.
The difference tonight, says Allensen, came with what they did with the puck. Barrie had fewer turnovers and they chipped pucks in and got on them.
“We got fast forwards, and they’re big forwards, so it was just working their (defence),” said the assistant captain. “We made it hard for their (defence) all night and this is going to be big for us moving forward.
“Just get pucks behind other team’s (defence) and just work them down low and then low to high will open up our play’s down low. I think just going forward we got to keep doing what we did tonight.”
Even when the Wolves (3-5-1) cut into their lead on goals by Kocha Delic, Landon McCallum and Chase Stillman, the Colts came right back, responding all three times around a minute later.
The biggest may have come when Stillman scored 5:55 into the third to cut Barrie’s lead to 5-3. Instead of allowing the Wolves to feed off it, the Colts scored just 18 seconds later.
Ryan Del Monte, who finished the night with four points, deflected an Allensen point shot past Sudbury goalie and Barrie native Mitchell Weeks to restore the three-goal lead.
“Those are huge,” Williamson said of bounce-back goals. “That was real big, especially there in the third when they got it to two. You can start to tighten up and things like that, but a nice deflection goal where you got the guys nice and layered in front there.
“Some real good things and those are always great responses when you can answer right back.”
That, says Allensen, is what you have to do in the OHL.
“You can’t get too low or you can’t get too high when you score because the other team’s coming or we’re coming, so you just got to stay level-headed,” he said. “Stay in the game and at the end of the day you got to keep playing for a full 60 minutes and that’s what we did here tonight.”
Clarke also had a strong game on the back end, finishing the night with a goal and three points, but it was Porco who earned first-star honours with a three-point effort himself.
Any frustrations he had trying to find the scoresheet in earlier games, the overage winger put all that aside with a strong effort that helped him find the back of the net twice.
“He’s worked hard for us, so it’s nice to see guys get rewarded,” Williamson said of is veteran forward. “Porco is a pretty honest player and he had a good goal in front of the net there and I thought he impacted the game in a lot of ways.
“His speed was real useful today.”
The win over Sudbury kicked off a three-games-in-three nights weekend for Barrie against Central Division rivals.
They face the Mississauga Steelheads on the road Friday night, before wrapping up a busy weekend back at home Saturday night against the North Bay Battalion.
Williamson knows games against division rivals are always big, no matter what time of year. Both the Steelheads, who were idle Thursday, and the Battalion, who are off Friday, will be well rested when they face the Colts.
“They’re going to be a little more rested, so for us we really have to be on our games,” the Colts head coach said. “They’re division games, they’re almost like four-point games, so we want to get the mix there and keep building this in the right direction.”
“Mississauga ate us up a little bit the last time we played when we had a real good goaltending performance and beat them 2-0,” he said. “But I’m impressed with how well they skate and this is going to be another good test for us how we answer the bell that way.”
Allensen knows the head-to-head games against teams in your division are always crucial. They’re normally the ones you look back on when you find yourself in battle in the standings down the stretch.
“Just how we’ve kind of had a slow start, these are even bigger,” he said. “Early in the year, we got to capitalize on the opportunities so when it comes down to later in the year, the playoff crunch, we get what we want.”
Game time Friday in Mississauga is 7 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Barrie’s Artur Cholach was forced to leave Thursday’s game early after being hit. Williamson doesn’t expect the defenceman to be in the lineup against Mississauga. “He’s probably done for the weekend,” the head coach said. “He kind of took a hit in the head, so we’ll see how is night goes. They’re going to put him on the bike (Friday), so we might have a chance for him on Saturday, but we don’t think he’s going to be in for (Mississauga).” . . . Matthew Sbrocca made 17 saves to pick up his second win in goal for Barrie. . . The Colts outshot the Wolves, 35-20. . . Williamson hopes the chemistry on Thursday shows players understand their priorities and everyone on a line is buying in. “We flipped our lines again and hopefully we can start to build on this now,” he said. “It is one game and it’s a good game for us, but the test for us is to try and build on this.”
feature image: Barrie Colts forward Ryan Del Monte – TERRY WILSON/OHL IMAGES