Published April 11, 2023

Cardwell's huge game helps Colts muzzle the Bulldogs

Overager pots winner with 10 seconds left to complete hat trick and eliminate Hamilton
Cardwell's huge game helps Colts muzzle the Bulldogs

On many a night this season, the duo of Evan Vierling and Ethan Cardwell carried the Barrie Colts to a win.

On Monday night, the overage linemates teamed up to carry the Colts past the Hamilton Bulldogs and into the second round of the OHL playoffs.

With just 9.9 seconds remaining and the game tied, Cardwell took a pass from Vierling and ripped his third of the night to give Barrie a 5-4 series-clinching win at FirstOntario Centre.

Cardwell, with his teammates trailing him, raced down the ice with his finger up to his lips shushing the crowd after his game-winner had silenced Hamilton for good this season.

"They did a great job. You got to give them a ton of credit," Cardwell said of the Bulldogs after leading Barrie to a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. "You knew Game Six was going to be a battle. They played amazing against us all season at home, so we're just happy to steal one on the road there and close out the series."

The Colts had rallied from a 3-0 early second-period deficit to grab a 4-3 lead on Cardwell's second of the game with 6:18 remaining. But Nick Lardis beat Anson Thornton to draw Hamilton even with 3:13 left in the game.

Then, with the faceoff in their own end and just seconds remaining, the Barrie duo delivered once again.

Vierling walked in over the Hamilton blue line and found Cardwell down the right side. The San Jose Sharks prospect wired one short side over the glove of Hamilton goalie Matteo Drobac and it was game over.

"Vierling just came in and made an unbelievable play to me and I was lucky enough to find a corner," said Cardwell. "I kind of just shot and hoped."

The win puts the Colts into Round 2 where they'll face the Central Division champion North Bay Battalion. Game 1 is set for Friday night at 7 p.m. in North Bay.

"We knew it was going to be tough in here," said Colts head coach Marty Williamson of the six-game series against a young Hamilton team they had split four regular season games with. "We haven't won a lot in here. We knew it was going to be a tough test, but (our guys) never gave up at 3-0.

"We didn't even give up at the end on a faceoff in our zone that we're kind of thinking just ice it or get it out. Vierling makes a nice play, and then Cardwell does what he does, which is score goals."

Cardwell finished the night with four points (3G, 1A), while Vierling drew four helpers for eight points between Barrie's big duo.

They combined for 78 goals and 185 points during the regular season.

"He kinds of finds me in all the right areas," Cardwell said of Vierling. "I'm the beneficiary on a lot of those beautiful passes, so I have to give him a ton of credit. We seem to play well together and find each other on the ice, so things are working well.

"We're just hoping for more of the same."

Williamson has seen that chemistry time and time again.

"They just have a weird ability to know where each other is," he said. "Those passes by Vierling are just seeing-eye passes. There's very few people that can make those plays and Cardwell is an elite finisher. They're a nice combo.

"(Jacob) Frasca has done a good job fitting in with them and playing solid defence, and it's given us a true No. 1 line."

Cardwell admits his game wasn't quite there early on in this one. While Sahil Panwar, Lucas Moore and Florian Xhekaj scored for Hamilton, the speedy winger was fighting pucks, shooting high and having pucks roll off his stick.

"In the first period the puck was bouncing and, I don't know, my legs weren't really there," he said. "I kind of went in and regrouped between the first and second. We needed to do a job and we knew what needed to be done and we wanted to win that game.

"It was a turning point right in the locker room when we decided we were going to turn it around and then with hard work, puck luck comes with that. I think that's what happened a little bit tonight."

Good players, says Williamson, find a way to persevere.

"I thought the same thing, the puck was bouncing off his stick and that kind of stuff, but goal scorers never seem to lose confidence," he said. "They always just seem to have that ability when they get that next opportunity to bury it."

Brandt Clarke, who also added a pair of assists to finish with three points, and Beau Akey also scored for the Colts, who were determined not to go to a Game 7 Tuesday night back in Barrie.

"No, I didn't want a Game 7," Williamson said with a laugh. "It's nice to get that extra day to get prepared and we've got a big challenge ahead of us with North Bay. They're a heck of a hockey team. That's where the focus goes now."

Even with the Colts down 2-0 just under seven minutes in and then when Hamilton added to its lead at 4:43 of the second despite the Colts dominating, did the Colts doubt they could fight back.

"We deal well with adversity," said Cardwell. "We came back a few times before this year and tonight was another example of that. It's not over until it's over and we just play with that mentality and have trust in our players out there."

After Barrie trounced Hamilton 10-2 in the series opener and then held court at home to go up 2-0, it appeared like it was going to be a short series.

In the end, it was the last first-round series to wrap up.

"We never did give up, and it was a different kind of series," said Williamson. "At times, I thought we were going to run them out of the building, and you never know.

"Credit to Jay McKee. I thought he did a great job with that young hockey team, and they're going to be awfully good down the road."

Puck drop Friday at North Bay Memorial Gardens is 7 p.m.

The rest of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series goes:

Game 2 in North Bay, Sunday, Apr. 16 at 2 p.m.

Game 3 in Barrie, Tuesday, Apr. 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Game 4 in Barrie, Thursday, Apr. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Game 5 in North Bay, Saturday, Apr. 22 at 7 p.m.

Game 6 in Barrie, Monday, Apr. 24, at 7:30 p.m.

Game 7 in North Bay, Tuesday, Apr. 25 at 7 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Hamilton's Artem Grushnikov took a run at Brandt Clarke as the game ended, knocking over the Colts captain. Panwar, who was suspended for two games after a check to the head of Clarke earlier in the series, was handed a minor for a check to the head at the end of the game. . . Barrie oushot Hamilton 37-20, including 19-7 in the second. . . Connor Punnett had an assist and was stellar defensively. . .  Williamson praised the play of rookie centre Cole Beaudoin. "I thought Cobo had a hell of a game," he said. "For a 16-year-old to be doing what he's doing, as important as he is to us, is a credit to him."

banner image: Terry Wilson/OHL Images

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