Published April 7, 2023

Thornton scores first goalie goal in franchise history in Colts win over Hamilton

Empty-netter only the 10th in OHL history
Thornton scores first goalie goal in franchise history in Colts win over Hamilton

Anson Thornton put a big exclamation mark on a huge win for the Barrie Colts Thursday night at Sadlon Arena.

The Colts' goaltender became the first goalie in franchise history to score a goal and only the 10 in OHL history as his empty-net marker with just 31 seconds remaining sealed an important 4-1 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs in front of 3,486 ecstatic fans.

The win gave the Colts a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference quarter-final best-of-seven series and a chance to wrap it up on Monday night in Steel Town.

"I've never seen anything like that," Colts centre Evan Vierling, who scored once and added an assist, said of Thornton's goal. 'It's a lot of fun that we're having right now. It was a spectacular thing to happen tonight."

Up 2-1 heading into the third, the Colts finally got a little breathing room with just 1:28 remaining when captain Brandt Clarke fired a puck all the way down the ice into an empty net to make it a two-goal lead.

With nothing to lose, the Bulldogs pulled Matteo Drobac again and that set up Thornton's impressive historic moment.

Hamilton's Nick Lardis fired the puck along the right boards and behind the net giving Thornton the chance he'd been waiting a lifetime for.

"As soon as he rimmed," the Arizona Coyotes prospect said of when he knew he was going to try for a goal. "I always have that in the back of my mind, so I wanted to bring it on my strong side.

"I just looked for the back of the net and hit."

Thornton fired the puck from the side of his net over the Bulldogs before it bounced around centre ice and slid all the way down into the middle of the net.

"I don't know if I can do that," said Vierling, who was so happy for his teammate. "That's pretty good aim from Thorts tonight. Good stuff from him."

It was far from the only contribution the Barrie goaltender made on this night after making 23 saves, a few of the spectacular kind.

That goal, though.

"I practice it all the time," said the 19-year-old who said it was his first-ever attempt at accomplishing the rare feat during a game. "It's always been something I wanted to accomplish."

And it came at a pretty good time for a Colts team that was looking to bounce back on home ice after two losses in Hamilton tied the series.

"This game was huge for us," added Thornton. "We're just trying to keep this rolling in Hamilton and hopefully close the series out."

In a penalty-filled opening period, it was the Bulldogs that struck first.

Just two nights after the Colts gave up four power-play goals, Hamilton struck again when Nick Lardis hammered a drive from the faceoff circle shortside past Thornton just 5:07 into the game.

In a period that featured a combined six opportunities with the man advantage, the Colts made the most of their own two to get all the offence they would need on this night.

Jacob Frasca tied it at 1-1 at 7:52 when he deflected Clarke's point shot in front past Drobac.

Less than two minutes later, Barrie got what proved to be the winner when Evan Vierling stepped into the middle  and whipped a shot past Drobac. 

After a scoreless second, the Bulldogs pushed hard for the equalizer in the third, but the Colts put up their best defensive period of the series.

"It was a really good push from them in the third period and we handled it really well," said Vierling. "It shows the character in this room just shutting the game down, so credit to the guys."

The Colts did the little things that count in defending leads. They worked the clock by getting the puck deep into the Hamilton zone as often as possible, kept most everything to the outside and limited the amount of odd-man rushes.

Barrie gave up just eight shots in the frame and outshot Hamilton 25-24.

And when they needed Thornton to make the big stop, he was there. 

"We played a really structured game tonight," said Vierling. "We didn't give them much, so when we play like that it's great. They didn't have much tonight, so we just got to keep that going."

Thornton praised his teammates in front of him.

"The third went well for us," he said. "We just kept it simple. We were getting pucks deep and it was really nice for us. It was a great outcome."

The contest also started with some great news for the Colts who got a huge boost to their lineup with the return of three big veterans.

Beau Jelsma, concussed after taking a check to the head in the opening game of the series that resulted in a two-game suspension for Sahil Panwar, returned and had an assist as well as playing a vital role in helping the Colts kill off four of five Hamilton power plays.

Veteran defenceman Connor Punnitt, who had been out since March 23, was also back in the lineup and playing a key role.

Clarke finished serving his one-game suspension for a kneeing major and misconduct in Tuesday's Game 3 6-3 loss in Hamilton.

The Barrie captain was his usual dominant self, logging major minutes on the point, while recording a goal and two assists for three points and finishing with a plus-two.

The Los Angeles Kings prospect leads all OHL scorers in the playoffs with four goals and 10 assists for 14 points.

"It's obvious we missed those guys these past couple of games," said Vierling. "It's awesome to have them back."

Puck drop for Game 6 at the FirstOntario Centre on Monday is 7 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: Thornton's goalie goal is the first since Peterborough's Dylan Wells did it back on April 13, 2017 against the Kingston Frontenacs. He is also the fifth OHL goalie to hit the back of the net in the playoffs. . . Game 7, if necessary, is back in Barrie on Tuesday night. . . Florian Xhekaj who received a game misconduct for check to the head of Clarke in Game 3, got Clarke up high again, though this time he was handed only a two-minute minor. . After a feisty first period, there were only four minor penalties combined over the final two periods and two of those came at the end of the game when Noah Roberts received a double minor for spearing.

banner image: Josh Kim, Barrie Colts

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