Published April 14, 2023

Nobody will be surprised if Colts and Battalion series goes full seven games

Eastern Conference Semifinal series begins tonight in North Bay
No surprise if Colts and Battalion series goes full seven games

It seems like the Barrie Colts and the North Bay Battalion have been on a collision course all season long.

They battled until the final week of the OHL season for top spot in the Central Division and now the two longtime rivals will meet beginning Friday night in North Bay with a trip to the Eastern Conference final on the line.

The Central champion Troops (48-17-2-1) marched their way to the OHL's second-best regular season record, but had their hands full in the opening round, defeating the Mississauga Steelheads in six games.

The Colts (42-17-6-3) had their own tough out in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, needing a hat trick and game-winning goal with 10 seconds remaining from Ethan Cardwell to dispose of the Hamilton Bulldogs in six games.

The Battalion carried the season series against the Colts this season, winning five of six games, but two of those went into overtime and another two were two-goal wins.

While Barrie enters the best-of-seven series as the underdogs, they feel more than prepared for the challenge.

"North Bay is going to be a huge test for us, so we're just going to do what we can to regroup and get our energy back and build towards them," said Cardwell after Monday's 5-4 Game 6 win over Hamilton. "They're an amazing team, and we believe we are too, and we think it's going to be a great series, and we're ready for it."

On paper, the two appear to be evenly matched.

"It's a different kind of series, so we'll just have to get into our homework," Colts head coach Marty Williamson said earlier in the week of facing North Bay. "I haven't paid too much attention to them until now, but we'll dig into a deep dive and figure out the best way to approach North Bay."

This marks the fourth playoff series between the two division rivals since the Troops moved to North Bay with the Battalion holding a 2-1 edge in series wins. Including their time in Brampton, the Colts have won five of their eight head-to-head playoff matchups.


GOALTENDING: Only the Ottawa 67's (171) gave up fewer goals in the OHL than the Troops (183) and a big reason for that was the play of Dom DiVincentiis. The Winnipeg Jets prospect led the OHL in goals against average (2.33), save percentage (.919), wins (36) and shutouts (5) to finish off the clean sweep of key goaltending categories.

Anson Thornton proved he could carry the load for the Colts this season after being acquired from Sarnia. The Arizona Coyotes prospect made 44 starts and finished third in save percentage (.903) and wins (29) and even pitched in with a little offence scoring an empty-net goal in a Game 5 win over Hamilton to become just the 10th goalie in league history to find the back of the net.

Both can be difference makers in the crease, but DiVincentiis won the regular season battle starting all six games against Barrie and winning five of those.

EDGE: North Bay, but it's closer than you think.

DEFENCE: Williamson makes no bones the strength of his team lies on the blueline and an already solid group became arguably one of the deepest and most talented when the Los Angeles Kings returned Brandt Clarke and added defensive stalwart Braden Haché at the trade deadline.

Clarke has not only been the best defenseman in the league since his return, but he's also been the best player and leads all OHL playoff scorers with 5 goals and 17 points in five playoff games.

The Colts also got a huge boost in Game 4 with the return of Connor Punnett from injury and along with Beau Akey and Artur Cholach give Barrie a top five that can compete with any blue line.

The Battalion have their own offensive Stallion on the back end with Seattle Kraken prospect Ty Nelson. The former first overall pick in the 2020 OHL draft had 24 goals and 76 points, third best among OHL point men.

Nelson had only 15 points more than Clarke despite playing more than double the games, but make no mistake he's the straw that stirs the drink on offence for the Troops.

Paul Christopoulos, who was a plus 51 during the season, and Brayden Hislop are part of a solid group that keeps things simple in front of DiVincentiis.

EDGE: Barrie

FORWARDS: Both teams have plenty of depth up front and finished neck-and-neck in goals scored with the Battalion (285) just edging out the Colts (284).

Lead by Edmonton prospect Matvey Petrov (27-66-93), the Troops boast an offence with eight 20-plus scorers and four 30-goal scorers including Kyle McDonald (34), Josh Bloom (32), Kyle Jackson (31) and Dalyn Wakely (30), who did a fair amount of his sniping this season against Barrie. 

Overagers Evan Vierling and Cardwell powered the Colts offence. Vierling finished tied for fifth in league scoring with 35 goals and 95 points, while linemate and Sharks prospect Cardwell posted a career high 43 goals and 90 points and led the team in goal scoring in the first round with six goals in just five games.

Sparkplug Beau Jelsma (31 goals) had three goals and five points in just three first-round games after suffering a concussion in the series opener against Hamilton.

Jacob Frasca just missed out on the 30-goal club (27) and had a strong opening round with three goals and five points.

Overager Declan McDonnell was a force in the opening round, racking up four goals and four assists.

EDGE: Even

SPECIALTY TEAMS: The Colts power play (3rd, 81.6 per cent) was strong all season, but Clarke took it to another level when he arrived after Christmas.

The Colts captain has an incredible talent at opening things up and finding teammates and that could be the Troops biggest challenge despite having the OHL top penalty-killing unit (1st, 87 per cent).

Barrie penalty killers (3rd, 81.6 per cent) were just as strong almost all season and the likes of Jelsma and McDonnell, along with rookie Cole Beaudoin and Frasca, are at their best when exerting pressure up front.

The North Bay (8th, 22.9 per cent) finished eighth, but with Nelson quarterbacking it and Petrov also handling a fair bit of the puck it can be dangerous.

EDGE: Barrie

This should be a long series and nobody will be surprised if it goes the distance. The Troops held off the Colts for the Central title and earned the extra home date which gives them the extra game with the last line change.

SERIES PREDICTION: Colts find a way and win it in six games.
"We got a big challenge ahead of us with North Bay," said Williamson. "They're a heck of a hockey team."

Game 1 puck drop tonight at the North Bay Memorial Gardens is 7 p.m.

banner image: Barrie Colts

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