Published March 31, 2023

Shorthanded Colts run over Bulldogs 10-2 in series opener

Leading scorers Vierling, Cardwell out sick
Shorthanded Colts run over Bulldogs 10-2 in series opener

No Evan Vierling. No Ethan Cardwell. No problem for the Barrie Colts.

Even with their top two scorers sick and at home, the shorthanded Colts offence got by just fine Thursday night at Sadlon Arena, exploding for a 10-2 romp over the Hamilton Bulldogs in the opening game of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series.

Brandt Clarke scored twice and added four assists for six points and Beau Jelsma had a pair of goals and assists for four points as the Colts looked little like a team missing a combined 78 goals and 185 points of offence from two of the OHL's top 11 scorers.

"It was no problem because they played hard," Colts head coach Marty Williamson said of his team, who will look to take control of the series Saturday night in Game 2 back on home ice. "Our guys played together, they followed the game plan and credit to the 20 guys who were dressed."

Declan McDonnell and Tai York also scored twice, while Jacob Frasca and Tai York added one each as Barrie put this one away with a five-goal second period.

The opportunity for others to step up in the absence of Vierling and Cardwell was something, Clarke said, the team talked about before the game.

"Obviously there's holes to fill," said Clarke, who capped off a huge night with highlight reel "Michigan goal" from behind the net with just over five minutes remaining. "We have great depth players, guys that want to step up and make a statement when they have that chance.

"Vierling and Cardwell aren't out for too long, so these guys really stepped up when the opportunity was there and that just shows that when guys go down in the playoffs we have the right core in that room that anyone can step up at any time."

Things actually didn't start out so well for the favoured Colts in this one. Barrie took a pair of penalties before the game was even six minutes old.

That all changed when the penalty-killing duo of Jelsma and McDonnell applied the pressure up front and resulted in a turnover that led to McDonnell ripping a shorthanded goal over the right pad of Hamilton starter Tristan Malboeuf just under seven minutes in.

Noah Nelson scored just 1:33 later, but it was pretty much all Barrie after that.

The Colts chased Malboeuf from the game early in the second after scoring four times on 17 shots. Hamilton backup Matteo Drobac didn't fare any better, giving up six goals on 27 shots the rest of the way.

"That was a big catalyst for us," said Clarke of McDonnell's shorthanded marker. "They did really well and the whole team did really well on that kill, and they really forced down ice. McDonnell had a great goal to kickstart us."

The first half of the first period belonged to Hamilton.

"They kind of hemmed us in. We had some penalties," added Clarke. "The second half of the period, we played in their zone all the time and that was great. We were really proud of that back half of the period and we carried that on through the next two periods and that's why we had such a (big) win."

The line of Jelsma, McDonnell and Savard, who returned to the lineup after being out over two weeks with a head injury, was dynamic and relentless on the forecheck all night, forcing numerous turnovers.

Jelsma would add another shorthanded marker early in the second to give Barrie a comfortable 5-1 lead.

"I thought the shorthanded goal to get us going, really set the table for everything," Williamson said. "That line played well. I thought York did well and again I really don't have a lot of fault with our forward group. We kind of challenged them to play a little bit differently than they have, and I thought they did, and all 12 guys gave us what we needed."

Despite the dream series opener, Williamson reminded his club that it's only one game and they can't get too full of themselves because every game is a different entity.

"Sometimes if you're on the losing end, it's better to lose 10-2," said the Colts coach. "Maybe the other team gets a little bit lax, and you come with a more focused game, so that's the message we got to give our guys."

Clarke was echoing his coach on that after the game as well.

"This is great that we had such a great win and great that some of the guys had such a great offensive output, but come Saturday it means nothing," said the Barrie captain, who was playing his first career OHL playoff game. "They're going to bounce back, they're going to regroup, and we have to be ready for it."

Already shorthanded without Vierling, Cardwell and defensive stalwart Connor Punnett, who hurt himself two weeks ago delivering an open ice hit, the Colts could be without Jelsma Saturday after he took a nasty head check from Sahil Panwar against the glass early in the third and left the game.

The Bulldogs could find themselves without one of their top stars as Panwar was handed a checking to the head major and given a game misconduct.

"We don't know what's going to happen to (Panwar), but maybe they've lost one," he said of the hit which is certain to be reviewed by the league for a possible suspension. "It's part of our game plan for this series. We don't want to get messing around with anything. Just play the game and hopefully try to get the win."

With things getting nasty on the ice and Hamilton's frustrations leading to numerous Barrie power plays, Clarke put an exclamation mark on the win with his second of the night with just over five minutes left.

Braden Haché, who had four assists, slid it behind the net to Clarke, who lifted the puck onto his stick and then came around and shovelled it into the top corner past an unsuspecting Drobac.

The goal was initially called off, but it had clearly gone in upon a review.

"Oh, I knew it was in," said Clarke. "I saw it hit the back bar. I didn't even know they waved it off."

Clarke hadn't tried the play since back in his minor midget days with the Don Mills Flyers.

"I hadn't even tried it in a very long time, so it's kind of cool that it worked out."

Puck drop for Game 2 on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Williamson isn't sure when Vierling or Cardwell will return. "I really don't (know)," he said. "We have to see them more. They weren't feeling good today at all. Neither guy. We'll just see if (Friday) brings us a good day or else it could be later into the weekend. The more wins we can get, the better I feel. We know they're going to come back at some point, it's just when." . . . Punnett is unlikely to see action this weekend. "We're just going to take it easy with him until we need him," said Williamson. "We want to make sure he's 100 per cent. The way he plays is the way he has to play. He needs to be 100 per cent. . . Colts specialty teams were a force all night, scoring four times on eight power-play chances to go along with their two shorthanded markers. . . Anson Thornton faced just 24 shots, including four in the third, in picking up the win in net for Barrie.

banner image: Terry Wilson/OHL Images

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