Published March 19, 2023

Man on a mission, Clarke records five points in Colts 11-4 romp over IceDogs

Blueliner making a 'statement' since being sent back by Kings
Brandt Clarke - Barrie Colts

When the Los Angeles Kings returned prospect Brandt Clarke to Barrie in early January, the Colts captain made it his mission to be the best player in the Ontario Hockey League.

The way he's played, it's hard to argue it hasn't been mission accomplished.

The defenceman continued his domination of the junior hockey league Saturday night, scoring three times and finishing with five points to lead the Colts to an 11-4 pounding of the Niagara IceDogs at Sadlon Arena.

Clarke now has 21 goals and 38 assists for 59 points in just 30 games and, despite playing less than half a season, now sits tied for fifth overall in scoring among defencemen.

His torrid pace over a full season would have him sitting first overall in OHL scoring.

"That's what my mindset was and that's what the Kings wanted me to do," the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft said of wanting to be not just the top blueliner, but the best player. "I just wanted to come back and make a statement this back half of the season that I can be the top player in this league and I think I've shown that.

"It doesn't mean a whole lot if I tail off in the playoffs. I want to take it to a whole new level in a couple of weeks.

I'm excited for that challenge and whole team is excited for that challenge as well."

Clarke, who became the all-time scoring leader among Barrie defencemen this season, is currently on 15-game scoring streak (11-22-33), the longest present run and fifth best in the OHL this season.

His 21 goals are just two from the franchise's single-season high of 23 set by Andrew Marshall (2005-06) and Aaron Ebklad (2013-14).

"You can't argue with anything he's doing, he's playing great," said Colts head coach Marty Williamson. "He's playing unselfish hockey. He's distributing the puck. If he sees opportunities, he's taking advantage.

"He's just in a real zone right now, playing real well."

Normally when NHL prospects are returned to their junior teams, there's a period of adjustment for the young star who has to deal with the disappointment of getting sent down.

That hasn't been the case with Clarke at all.  

"I don't think I've seen a guy come back in our league with kind of no hangover, no it took a while to get going and that kind of stuff," said Williamson. "He hit the ground running with us as soon as he came back and he hasn't stopped."

For Clarke, he says there was never a disappointment factor about returning to Barrie.

"That's obviously the team (Kings) I want to be with for the next decade-plus, but when they sent me back they said this is what is best for you at the moment and what's going to be best to help us in the future," explained Clarke, who was honoured along with overagers Declan McDonnell, Evan Vierling and Ethan Cardwell in a pre-game ceremony for graduating players. "I took that in stride. I was like, 'Awesome, I'm going to do the best I can.'

"That's what my mission was in Barrie since Day 1, just to be a team player here. Help them out as much as I could, have a good 200-foot game, be reliable all the time and just try to be the top player in the league. I feel like I've checked a lot of those boxes already."

On Saturday, Clarke had his five points before the five-minute mark in the second. After going ahead 4-1 in the first, the Colts completely took over in the second, building a commanding 8-2 lead while outshooting the last-place IceDogs 23-7.

"I thought they were good in the dressing room. I thought they were talking about the right things and we didn't have to say a lot other than play the game the right way and I thought we did," said Williamson. "We kept our speed and we pursued pucks and we did all the good things.

"They're (Niagara) coming off a win, they beat Erie. They can win games and we showed that some of the good things they did in the Erie game I thought we did a better job."

Cardwell, who extended his scoring streak to 11 games (14-8-22), and Callum Chisholm scored twice to help Barrie (40-16-6-3) move to within two points of North Bay for the Central Division lead with three games remaining.

Beau Jelsma, who hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career and had three points, Roenick Jodoin, Cole Beaudoin and McDonnell also scored for the Colts.

Artur Cholach, who was an incredible plus seven on the night, added four assists, while Vierling had an assist to improve his scoring streak to 14 (12-20-32).

Zakary Lavoie, Declan Waddick, Kevin He and Michael Podolioukh replied for Niagara (12-44-8-1), which has just one win in its last 12 games.

Williamson was happy to see his club grab its milestone 40th win of the season. Only four other teams have done that this season.

"Really, it's been two seasons for us," said Williamson. "We were pretty inconsistent that first part and the second part we've had some little blips here and there, but those games we've kind of responded and maybe lost a close one. We've been pretty solid through the second half."

Clarke was happy to get back with his friends in the Colts dressing room when he returned, but he got excited when he looked at the roster and realized this team has the talent to make some serious noise these playoffs.

"There's a lot of belief in that dressing room," he said. "People aren't talking about us like I feel they should be right now. We think we'll peak at the right time."

The Colts complete their regular season schedule next week when they host the Sudbury Wolves on Thursday and then travel to Kingston on Friday and Ottawa Saturday afternoon.

They'll be without Grayson Tiller when the playoffs begin. The defenceman, who injured his shoulder, is scheduled for season-ending surgery at the end of March.

"It was a decision between the family and us, myself and his agent," said Williamson. "He was booked for July, which means he wasn't going to be ready for November and an opening (for surgery) came open, so he's going to get it at the end of the month."

ICE CHIPS: The Colts were trying to get rookie Kashawn Aitcheson his first OHL goal and the rookie defenceman came close a couple of times. "He hadn't played since (Dec. 30) and to step on the ice, he's such a confident kid," said Williamson. "The whole team's real happy he played real well." . . . Williamson is hoping Tyler Savard will be able to get in a game before then end of the regular season next weekend. The forward got tossed down with a horse-collar by Djibril Toure in the Sudbury game last week. Toure was suspended for six games. "He's feeling better every day, and we're hoping maybe we can get him into one game before the playoffs," said the Colts head coach. "We anticipate him being ready for playoffs." . . . Braden Haché didn't dress. Williamson said the blueliner wasn't feeling well. . . Anson Thornton made 26 saves to record his 28 win of the season. Josh Rosenzweig was pulled from the Niagara net at 4:16 of the second after giving up six goals on 22 shots. Replacement Owen Flores stopped 26 of 31 the rest of the way. . . Barrie outshot Niagara 53-30.

Photo courtesy of the Barrie Colts

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