Published March 21, 2024

Colts’ rookie goalie strong in 4-1 loss to Battalion

Hrebik stops 36 of 39 shots in first OHL start
Colts’ rookie goalie strong in 4-1loss to Battalion

Twenty minutes after his first OHL start in goal Wednesday night at the North Bay Memorial Gardens — a 4-1 loss to the host Battalion — Ben Hrebik was still taking it all in.

The Barrie Colts rookie, whose only other league appearance came in relief in Ottawa in early November, didn’t hesitate for a second when asked if he would remember this night.

“For sure,” said the 17-year-old native of Milton, whose dad and grandfather made the trip to North Bay to watch him play.

While Hrebik and the Colts (27-35-4-0) didn’t get the win, the young netminder can feel pretty darn good about his OHL debut as a starter.

Facing one of the OHL’s top teams, Hrebik kicked aside 36 of the 39 shots he faced and made several outstanding saves along the way.

“I thought I did pretty good,” said Barrie’s ninth-round pick (173rd overall) in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection. “The team helped me out a lot with a lot of blocked shots. It was a good team effort in general.”

Hrebik’s play between the pipes certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Colts head coach Marty Williamson.

With North Bay (37-20-7-2) pushing to catch the Oshawa Generals for top spot in the Eastern Conference as well as lock down top spot in the Central Division, the host Troops came out hard, doubling up Barrie 40-20 in shots.

Two of the three goals Hrebik gave up came on power plays and the other one might as well have been coming just five seconds after Colts’ defenceman Kashawn Aitcheson left the penalty box.

Add that to a Barrie club that was playing its fourth game in five nights and is wrapping up the regular season schedule with seven games in 10 days.

“I thought he played a heck of a game for us,” said Williamson of Hrebik. “For a young kid going in there — and at times we didn’t have our ‘A’ game — he kind of bailed us out, and then other times we played better and he was just solid.

“Those two power-play goals, (and another) was almost a power-play goal on a back-door pass, the kid did a real good job.”

The six-foot-three, 185-pound Hrebik started the year with the Burlington Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and has spent the season up and down between Barrie and Burlington.

In 12 games with the Cougars, he recorded a 2.99 goals against average and a .903 save percentage while posting a 6-3 record. In his lone OHL appearance before Wednesday, Hrebik came in for starter Sam Hillebrandt almost midway through the second and gave up four goals to Ottawa on 17 shots in 31:59.

The rookie said he didn’t prepare any different for his start, but admits he was a little nervous coming in.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Hrebik said. “The boys were pumped though to see me get a game in, so I was really excited.”

He made several stops early on in the first period before Liam Arnsby found Andrew LeBlanc parked at the back door. The former Sarnia Sting winger proceeded to rip it over a diving Hrebik just as Aitcheson stepped back on the ice at 11:44.

Minutes later Hrebik would keep the lead at one when he outwaited 53-goal and 106-point sniper Anthony Romani’s attempt to jam the puck around the goalie’s left pad.

“I found my groove early in the game which helped me out throughout the game,” said Hrebik.

Sandis Vilmanis added to the lead on the power play with his first of two goals at 7:24 of the second before Aitcheson took a pass from Cole Beaudoin, stepped into the slot and ripped a drive past Dom DiVincentiis a little more than two minutes later to cut the lead to 2-1.

Ty Nelson would give the Battalion a cushion early in the third on the power play when he stepped into the faceoff dot to the right of Hrebik and ripped one far side over his pad.

Vilmanis would seal it with an empty netter with 2:35 remaining.

“I thought we grinded well,” said Williamson. “The ice conditions were real tough here and the puck seemed to be bouncing around, but that’s the same for both teams. I thought our guys battled hard and grinded. It’s a 2-1 game going into the third and I thought we were going to be OK there.

“Unfortunately, we took a bit of a soft penalty and all of a sudden it’s a 3-1 game and it gets a little tougher at that point.”

Hrebik hasn’t seen much action with the Colts, but the goaltender is willing to do whatever is needed to hopefully put himself into the crease picture next season.

“I thought I was ready for it,” he said of his first start.

The Colts will stay in North Bay overnight, practice Thursday morning and rest up before a stop in Sudbury on Friday night. They close out the regular season Saturday night at home to Peterborough.

“Yeah, it is,” Williamson said of the goal to get rest and relaxation between games. “To go up and back (to North Bay) and up and back (Sudbury) on Friday, we just thought it’d be a lot of stress on the guys, and our owner said stay up there and just take it easy.

“So, we’ll have a good day (Thursday), skate and put our feet up and have a good meal, and hopefully have a good effort for Sudbury.”

Game time Friday at Sudbury Community Arena is 7:05 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: North Bay moved to within two points of Oshawa with the win. Oshawa can clinch top spot in the conference and a first-round playoff date with the Colts with two wins. If the Battalion win both remaining games and the Generals lose one of their two remaining games in regulation, the Colts will face North Bay. . . With forwards Roenick Jodoin and Zach Wigle injured, Cole Dubowsky got his second OHL start. The resulting line changes had Beau Jelsma move back to centre between Bode Stewart and Chris Grisolia. Kyle Morey moved back to centre between Michael Derbidge and Shamar Moses. Dubowsky played on a line with Jaiden Newton and Carter Lowe. . . Aitcheson’s goal was his eighth of the season and first since Dec. 9th.

banner image: Sam Hossack, Barrie Colts

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