When the Barrie Colts decided to unload at the OHL trade deadline last month, the expectations were that they would struggle to win hockey games and make the playoffs.
Not so fast, says the young, rebuilding team.
After a 6-3 win over the Otters Monday night at the Erie Insurance Arena, giving them five out of possible six points on a three-game road swing south of the border this weekend, the Colts (20-24-3-0) are now five points ahead of Peterborough for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth and are now just two points behind Kingston for seventh place.
“It’s a fun team to be around right now,” said Colts general manager and head coach Marty Williamson. “We got a good little mojo going.”
Since dropping their first three games after dealing away Jacob Frasca, Connor Punnett, Eduard Sale, Olivier Savard and Anson Thornton at the trade deadline, the Colts are 5-2-2, earning 12 out of possible 18 points.
“We’ve really bought into our systems,” said centre Zach Wigle, who had two goals and an assist in the win over Erie. “Our young guys especially are giving efforts that, given the opportunity, are honestly living up to it. It’s especially nice to see guys playing bigger roles and making the best of it.
“I think it’s helped us come closer as a group.”
Williamson says it’s funny how teams jell together after the deadline and right now the Colts have a rather good little identity going.
“We’ve got good goaltending almost every night and that helps you win hockey games, but we’re trying to take a different identity with our team, and we’re trying to get the guys to buy into it,” he said.
“I mentioned something about playoffs and this team wants to finish as high as it can, and getting into the seventh hole would be a great badge of honour,” added Williamson. “A lot of people wrote us off when we moved guys out just like that, so to be able to catch a team or press a team above us would be a nice look into the future with this group.”
A shorthanded marker just 5:24 into the game by Wigle and then a power-goal by Blair Scott gave the Colts a lead they would never relinquish.
Bruce McDonald beat Ben West 7:26 into the second period to cut the lead in half, but the overage goaltender Ben West held off an offensive wave by Erie (23-21-4-0) and late goals just 55 seconds apart by Wigle and Bode Stewart gave Barrie some breathing room heading into the third.
“They scored to make it 2-1 and I just tried to forget about it and worry about the next shot,” said West, who turned aside 38 shots to get his second career win in Erie over the team that drafted him in the 10th round (190th overall) of the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. “After that, we were able to bury a couple and then other times to widen the lead, so that was nice.
“We had timely goals today and played a real great game.”
Every time Erie scored to cut into the lead, the Colts came right back. When McDonald fired in his second just 44 seconds into the third, Tai York scored less than four minutes later.
When Malcom Spence made it 5-3 with 11:15 remaining, Michael Derbidge teed up captain Beau Jelsma for the one-timer, and he hammered it over the glove hand of Erie’s Charlie Burns to squash the momentum.
“I thought that was real big too,” Williamson said of his club ability to fight right back. “Those bounce-back goals were huge.”
Williamson found things got “a little messy” in the third. Barrie was trying to hang on to pucks and didn’t get pucks deep. While its structure was off, West was there when they needed him and they found a way to get an important two points.
“It wasn’t a great third period, but prior to that we’ve had a lot of good periods where we’ve played really strong hockey,” he said. “Where we’ve worked hard, got the goals the proper way and specialty teams are kicking in a little bit. The penalty kill is getting a little bit better.
“It’s a combination of a bunch of things. Those are the kinds of things you need to have when you win on the road.”
Wigle now has five goals and seven points over his last nine games. With scorers Frasca and Sale gone, the veteran has stepped up to fill the offensive void.
“I think so and I also think the guys I have been playing with have been amazing, and obviously that really helps me a ton,” said Wigle, who now has 12 goals on the season. “Even tonight with Cole (Beaudoin) fending off three guys, I get a breakaway off it. Things like that really make a difference for me.
“I have been shooting more and maybe that’s part of it as well.”
Barrie finishes off its six-game road swing Friday night against the Mississauga Steelheads, before returning home Saturday night to host Kingston.
“Two big games, two teams above us,” said Williamson. “Us and Mississauga got a little rivalry going, we play hard against each other and usually it’s a pretty lively game. Then we got Kingston coming in the next night and we know standings-wise what a win can do for us against them.”
Game time on Friday night at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre is 7 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Monday’s contest in Erie was a makeup date after the original Jan. 10 contest was postponed due to poor ice conditions. . . Even though the Central Division rivals play three more times, Friday night’s contest against the Steelheads will — barring a surprise meeting in the playoffs — be the last time the two teams play there before the Trout move just up the street to Brampton. . . Riley Patterson had an assist to improve his scoring streak (5G, 5A for 10 pts.) to six games. Beaudoin recorded a pair of assists to improve his scoring streak to 10 games (6G, 8A for 14 pts.). . . Noah Smith dressed for Jack Brauti on the blue line, who was a scratch. . . Erie outshot Barrie 41-33, including 20-9 in that second period when West stood tall. The overager has been real good since he took over the crease when Sam Hillebrandt went to the world junior hockey championships. “I just wanted to take advantage and I was happy with the job I did,” said West. “Sam came back and he’s been really good. It’s been nice having him back and having him as a friend as well.”
banner image: Bryce Dolak