Published March 30, 2024

Colts weather early, late pressure to hold off Generals in playoff opener

Having wrapped up top spot in the Eastern Conference with 12-straight wins to close out the regular season, the Oshawa Generals headed into Friday night’s OHL playoff series opener against the Barrie Colts as the heavy favourites.

The “underdogs” showed in Game 1 they’re not about to roll over.

The Colts weathered an early storm and then another late push by the Generals in the third period before captain Beau Jelsma scored into an empty net with eight seconds remaining to help the young club steal home ice advantage with a 4-2 win in front of 5,979 fans at the Tribute Communities Centre.

“I think we’re going out here every night with no pressure,” Jelsma said after Barrie held on to a late one-goal lead to take Game 1 of the best-of-seven first-round series. “We’re the underdogs here and we know that, and we need to play at our best every night. Not getting stressed out and just playing our game and just playing hockey.

“Playoff time is the best time of the year. It’s when games mean the most and I’m super happy for the boys. We’ve been preparing all week for this, and we just got to stay dialed in and get another one (Game 2) on Sunday.”

The Colts, who finished 29 points behind the Generals in the standings, can take control of the series with a victory in Game 2 on Sunday afternoon in Oshawa.

Game time is 1:05 p.m.

“I think it’s going to be a good test for us to see how we come back and play another game in this building,” said Colts’ general manager and head coach Marty Williamson. “We know there’s going to be a big pushback from them and to be able to handle that and go toe-to-toe we’ll send a real message.”

The Colts won just eight of 34 games on the road all season and while it was important to grab control of home ice right off the hop, they can ill afford to take the foot off the pedal.

“We love playing at home,” added Williamson, whose club posted a 20-12-2 record in the friendly confines of Sadlon Arena. “We have a great record at home, we love playing in front of our fans, so we’re happy to get the home games. But we know we have to win in this building.

“Our attitude now, and we’ll have a light skate (Saturday), is we can’t be satisfied. We got to come in here (Sunday) and come out with an A-plus effort and try to come out with a 2-0 lead.”

The Generals looked to send their own message early, dominating the first period, but despite outshooting the Colts 13-5 goaltender Sam Hillebrandt kept an Oshawa offence that features eight players with over 20 goals at bay in a scoreless opening 20 minutes.

Barrie came out strong in the second and were rewarded at 16:12 when rookie Shamar Moses banged home a rebound in front. Cole Beaudoin would add to the Barrie lead with just 57 seconds remaining in the frame on a nice setup by Tai York,

“I thought we were just a little bit nervous and were just kind of watching the game instead of participating as much as we needed,” Williamson said of his team’s slow start. “But I was happy. We weathered it. We were giving up a lot of point-blank chances and then we responded with a really solid second period where our feet were moving, and we were winning battles.

“I said (in the first intermission) we got to make some plays here and we did and got a couple of goals from it.”

Zach Wigle, who would finish the night with three points in his return to the lineup, would score just 46 seconds into the third period when he drove home a one-timer past Oshawa goalie Jacob Oster off a pass in front from Michael Derbidge.

It ended up being a huge goal.

“Yeah, that was a big key,” said Williamson of Wigle’s game winner. “I thought just getting the confidence and we talked about that in between (periods) about just staying on our toes and playing the right way to win the period 1-0.

“It didn’t quite work out that way, but we got that next goal, and it turned out to be that big goal.”

Beckett Sennecke would finally put Oshawa on the board on the power play at 9:27 before Dylan Roobroeck hammered home a drive in the slot with 2:01 remaining to cut the lead to 3-2.

“We knew coming into this building that the first game was going to be a little crazy,” said Jelsma. “They had a really good crowd tonight and the adrenalin on their side was going to be good, but we talked to the boys. We said let’s just get through the first period and just play our systems.

“There was going to be ups and downs, but we just kept grinding. We said if we want to keep it 0-0, we’ll just keep grinding and it’ll go our way at some point.”

 The Colts faced intense late pressure as the Generals pulled Oester to go with the extra attacker, but they held fort until Jelsma’s empty-netter put the game away.

“Kyle Morey made a huge shot block there at the end and that’s the sacrifices you need in a game like this,” said Williamson. “I’m a little disappointed at some of those dump outs, I thought we could have made better plays.

“We’ll talk and learn from that about how we can not put ourselves under quite as much stress as we did.”

While Williamson didn’t name a starter for Sunday, Hillebrandt is likely to get the call after turning aside 31 of 33 shots.

“Hilly was awesome for us,” said Jelsma. “He played unbelievable and I’m super happy for him. He’s had such a great year. Lots of ups and downs for the team, but he’s always had our back.

“He had our back tonight, but we had his back also. We need to come back Sunday and have a good one for him.”

Opening the series win is a huge confidence booster for the Colts, but Jelsma knows they’ll have to be even better on Sunday afternoon.

“It was a huge win, for sure, but we can’t get too high on ourselves,” he said. “We know we have another game on Sunday and they’re going to come back at us hard, but I’m super proud of the boys and how we played tonight.

“We just got to keep it going.”


ICE CHIPS: Specialty teams have been a struggle all year for the Colts, but they were good signs in the series opener Barrie’s power play went 0-for-4 but had good chances all night. “We did,” said Williamson. “Our power play moved it around and we’ll keep looking at the tapes to see if there’s anything else there for us, but I was happy with the power play.” As the Barrie coach was with the penalty kill, which gave up a goal on three chances. “We weathered a storm in the first period and killed off a couple more,” said Williamson. “They did get the one on us, but other than that specialty teams weren’t the big decider and that’s what important to us.” . . . The Colts did a good job of driving to the net all night and were rewarded on goals by Moses and Beaudoin. “Both goals a guy drove and got rebounds and made plays,” said Williamson. “We can’t sit back and be all defence and just hope we win a 1-0 game. We got to go out there and earn some things and on both of those efforts that’s what we kind of did.”

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