Published March 29, 2024

‘Refreshed’ Colts ready for heavily favoured Generals

Colts enter the series as a heavy underdog
‘Refreshed’ Colts ready for heavily favoured Generals

The OHL playoffs have finally arrived and the Barrie Colts believe they are ready for the big task ahead of them after finally getting time to catch their breath.

After a busy final stretch that had them play seven times over 10 days to close out the regular season, the Colts (28-36-4-0) enjoyed a couple of days off before returning to the ice this week to prepare for their first-round series against the Eastern Conference champion Oshawa Generals (40-19-7-2).

Locked in eighth place, the Colts had little to play for after clinching a playoff berth but that all changes when the puck drops on the best-of-seven series Friday night at the Tribute Communities Centre.    

“Every team was playing for a position, and we weren’t playing for anything. It’s really hard,” said Colts head coach Marty Williamson of playing meaningless games in the standings. “We were fighting injuries a little bit. I thought with the couple of days off our guys looked really refreshed.

“They look intelligent as far as taking in what we were giving them as for what we expected this series and I just like the atmosphere around our team right now. I think we’re going to be ready on Friday.”

They’ll have to be for a Generals team that closed out the season with an impressive 12 straight wins to lock down the East Division and home ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

A Colts team that looked to the future at OHL trade deadline back in early January, including dealing captain Connor Punnett to Oshawa, enters the series as a heavy underdog.

Still, Williamson points to the season series between the two teams and a solid post-Christmas run by his club for inspiration before the fatigued team limped to a 3-8 record over a hectic month of March.

“We were 2-2 during the regular season,” said Williamson of the head-to-head record between the two teams this season. “I think the test for us and — again they’re the first-place team and they finished real strong and had a great second half — we just have to make sure we play our best hockey.

“I think if we play our best hockey, we have a real shot at this. If we don’t, then our odds go down pretty significantly. The onus on us is to be focused going into a tough building the first two games to give ourselves a chance to try and win these hockey games.”

As well, for the Colts to have any shot against an Oshawa team that features a deep, balanced attack, their goaltending will have to be strong.

Oshawa is led by Colorado Avalanche top prospect Callum Ritchie and the likes of New York Rangers prospect Dylan Roobroeck, top NHL draft prospect Beckett Sennecke, Connor Lockhart, who helped lead Peterborough to an OHL title last year, and 30-plus goal scorers Stuart Rolofs and Matthew Buckley.

“No doubt,” said Williamson of the need for top goaltending. “They got eight guys that have scored 20 goals or more in their forward group. It’s a dynamic team that dumps a lot of pucks in and dumps pucks out. If you make mistakes, they find guys and they can bury you. The Roobroecks, the (Matthew) Buckleys and these kind of guys get into the right areas and get their shots off.

“There haven’t been too many teams that we’ve outshot, and I got a feeling it’s going to be the same in this series that our goaltending is going to have stand up real strong for us.”

Both rookie Sam Hillebrandt and overager Ben West have been really good in the crease for Barrie much of this season. The two pretty much rotated starts, but as for whether that will continue in the playoffs Williamson isn’t saying.

“(Goaltending’s) probably been the backbone of this team, both these guys,” said the Colts head coach who didn’t reveal who would start Game 1 tonight. “I really think it’s a game-by-game situation. You start one guy and maybe it’s a little bit different than a regular season situation and you ride him for two or three games. If it turns out he’s tiring or he has a bad game, we feel good about going with the other guy.

“I think I have a bit of a luxury there. I got a couple of different scenarios I can play out and we’ll just see how it goes with the first starter and whether we ride him for a little bit or we keep the rotation.”

Barrie leaned heavily on captain Beau Jelsma, Cole Beaudoin and Riley Patterson for offence this season, but if they’re going to keep pace offensively with an Oshawa team that scored the third most goals in the conference they’re going to need some help from secondary scorers.

Tai York, Bode Stewart, Chris Grisolia, rookie Shamar Moses, and Zach Wigle (concussion), who is returning to the lineup after missing the last 10 days, will be among those needed to help keep pace.

“We need guys like York. We know what Beaudoin and Patterson are going to do,” said Williamson. “Wigle is going to be back and healthy and we need him to chip in like he has this year. We need to be opportunistic kind of up and down the line. Grisolia got a couple in Sudbury and hopefully, he can keep that going for us and Moses knocks in one here or there.

“Those are keys for us. If we’re just going to rely on three guys, it’s going to be a tough series. We’re just not going to beat that team. If we can get some balanced scoring and opportunistic effort from guys that produce goals, then, yeah, you’re going to have a hell of a series.”

Also key for the Colts will be the play of their specialty teams, which have struggled most of the season. Their penalty kill (66.2 per cent) finished dead last in the OHL, while the power play (16.3 per cent) was second last.

“Our first unit is staying on the ice way too long and not allowing us to have the ability to get our second unit out there,” said Williamson of the power play. “That was kind of the message (this week), that if they’re not going to get off, I’m going to start the other unit to try and get them out there each for a minute because it kind of bleeds into the next shift after the penalty.

“I got one line all tired and the lines are now disjointed, and we can’t keep the continuity going.”

The penalty kill will likely have to be much better if the Colts are going to have any chance to pull off an upset.

“Our penalty kill has got to be able to shut them down,” said Williamson. “We worked hard on it in practice, but we just can’t be scared to play hard. We know there’s going to be some penalties. If we can keep it around that four (penalty) mark, we need to kill three or four every night.

“Yeah, they’re going to get some goals and we have to not be too down about it, but they can’t be 4-for-4 or 3-for-4. Otherwise, it’s just too big a hill to climb.”

Line matching will also be important, though Oshawa holds an edge there with home-ice advantage in the series and the last line change for at least four of the possible seven games.

“Guys that get caught on bad changes or bad line matchups have to dig in for 15 or 20 seconds and get a puck out of our zone so we can get the line we want against that line,” said Williamson. “That’s going to be a real challenge for us.”

A real challenge will also be how a young Colts’ blueline holds up against a deep, talented Oshawa offence.

Overager Thomas Stewart and Grayson Tiller are the only true veterans on the point.  

“How does Jack Brauti and Evan Passmore and Blair Scott and these kind of guys hold up,” wondered Williamson out loud. “We know Stewart is going to be there and we need (Kashawn) Aitcheson and Tiller playing their best, but I really believe the pressure on this group of six is going to be pretty important for us to win hockey games.”

A young Colts team was Jekyll and Hyde in comparison on the road and at home this season.

While they posted a solid 20-12-2-0 record at Sadlon Arena, on the road it got ugly with just eight wins in 34 games in opposing rinks.  

A win Friday or in Game 2 in Oshawa on Sunday afternoon would be a huge boost of confidence returning home for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We have been a better road team. I’ve been pretty happy how this group has played,” Williamson said of their play away from Barrie in the second half of the season. “Sometimes the results haven’t quite been there, but to win on the road first of all we have to be mentally strong and not get caught up with the crowd and the refereeing. We got to stay focused on our job. That goes to the point I mentioned, we need to be 19, 20 people good. If we do that, we can be successful on the road.”

Game time tonight in Oshawa is 7:35 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Game 2 on Easter Sunday is 1:05 p.m. Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday at Sadlon Arena are 7 p.m. starts. . . Williamson said veteran winger Roenick Jodoin remains out. “I don’t think we’ll see him in the series,” said the Colts’ bench boss. “He could be ready for the second round if we’re lucky. We’ll miss him. He’s a bit of a game breaker and I think other teams have to be aware when he’s on the ice, but injuries are part of it and that’s just what we’re going to have to put up with it.” . . . Barrie won both games at home during the regular season, while dropping the last two in Oshawa.



OSHAWA: Veteran Jacob Oster (2.82 GAA, .905 SV%) is the main man between the pipes starting 60 of 68 games. Only London (197) gave up fewer goals than Oshawa (204) and Knights’ goalie Michael Simpson had a better goals against average (2.61).  

BARRIE: West (4.22 GAA, .888 SV%) and Hillebrandt (3.67 GAA, .899 SV%) split the crease as evenly as possible, with West (37) making one more appearance than the rookie.


OSHAWA: The Colts will see a whole lot of Punnett who finished with 7 goals and 24 points in 32 games with the Generals. Offensive stalwart Luca D’Amato (five-foot-nine, 160-pounds) under six feet on this hulking ‘D’ group.

BARRIE: Thomas Stewart came over in the Punnett deal and the overager has been a force, logging heavy minutes and leading a young blue line. Aitcheson has the size and skill to play a dominant role and the Colts will need that if they have a chance against a deep and talented Gens’ forward group.


OSHAWA: The balanced attack is led by Ritchie who got into just 50 games and finished with 80 points, while Lockhart proved a key acquisition early with 26 goals and 52 points in 45 games after coming over from the Petes. Finnish import and Minnesota Wild prospect Rasmus Kumpulainen scored 28 goals and had a nine-game scoring streak late in the season. Despite all the talent, the Gens finished ninth on the power play.

BARRIE: The Colts lean heavily on Jelsma (37G), Patterson (29G) and Beaudoin (28G) for offence as the trio combined for 94 of their 234 goals this season. Wigle (18G) and York (17G) had career best seasons. Bode Stewart (13G) could be one to watch as the second-year winger had four goals in his last three games after just going scoreless in his previous six.

DECISION – Young Colts won’t make it easy, but their lack of depth compared to a deep Oshawa club that was as hot as any OHL team down the stretch will add up to an early playoff departure for Barrie. GENERALS IN 5 GAMES

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