Published March 24, 2024

Colts celebrate overagers, close out season with win over Peterborough

Barrie Colts overagers

As the Barrie Colts skated to centre ice to salute the 4,337 fans after a 4-1 win over the Peterborough Petes Saturday night at Sadlon Arena, defenceman Thomas Stewart and goaltender Ben West took an extra couple of minutes to let it all sink in.

For the Barrie Colts overagers who had just played their final OHL regular season game, it was a special moment.

“There’s a lot of emotions,” said defenceman Thomas Stewart who had come over in early January trade from the Oshawa Generals. “It’s an end of a chapter in your life. You kind of get stuck in this period of shock, almost like ‘Ohh!’ It’s kind of like when you achieve something big, a goal you’re shooting for and you kind of go, ‘What now?’

“There’s less of that, because I got an idea of what I want to do, but it’s a chapter in a book.”

A special celebration was held for both players and their families on the ice before the game. The team presented framed jerseys and the players received a nice reception from fans who appreciated the two players who left it all on the ice every night.

“It felt really special,” said West, who backed up Sam Hillebrandt on this night. “I was nervous and excited to get here tonight. It’s the last regular season game, but it helped a bit knowing we had playoffs coming up and I’m kind of focusing getting ready for that.”

Players are often reminded to take a minute and enjoy the journey of junior hockey because one minute you’re a bright-eyed rookie and it seems like the next you’re saying your goodbyes.

Stewart was drafted by the Colts in 2019, but he would be moved to the Generals where he played almost three seasons before returning to Barrie.

Well-spoken and a leader on the team, Stewart said he made sure to enjoy the journey along the way. A journey that continues next week when the Colts take to the ice for the first round of the OHL playoffs.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Thomas said of taking everything in along the way. “One of the things when I was traded here, I like it here. It’s a little bit more relaxed. It lets you enjoy junior hockey a little bit more. In playoffs, it’s a job. You get serious, hockey is a job. Most kids want their career to be as a hockey player or a professional athlete.

“It’s sometimes nice to take a step back and look at ‘You know what? The OHL? It’s kind of nice.’”  

While Saturday’s win brought an end to a busy final stretch and the 68-game schedule, Colts will be more than happy to get a break before getting ready for their opening-round seven-game playoff series against one of Oshawa or North Bay, which will be determined with the final league games on Sunday.

Colts head coach Marty Williamson was happy to see the team and fans pay tribute to Stewart and West.

“Sure it is,” said Williamson of it being a big night. They played in this league for a long time, not quite the five-year type of guys, but Stewart we drafted and he’s gone the full circle a little bit. I think both guys will go on to play (university) sports, so you got to be proud of how they both played for us this year.

“I can’t talk to (Stewart’s) time in Oshawa and even West before he got to us, but they’ve both been class acts when they came to us.”

Acquired before last season from the Erie Otters, West has proven to be quite the story and fine example of perseverance this season. With Anson Thornton expected to be returned by the Arizona Coyotes for his overage season at the start of the season, the Barrie resident was likely going to have to move on.

Instead, Thornton broke a finger early on and West made the most of his opportunity.

“He sure did. He played really well,” said Williamson. Our goaltending has been rock solid, it’s a big part of (any success we’ve had). Him and Hillebrandt have fed off each other and given us great efforts almost every night.

“I’m really happy for West. I know he’s going out east to school. I think he’s one of those guys that (university) sports could be a good avenue for him to get to pro hockey if he gains a little more weight and keeps getting better.”

Playing on a rebuilding team and facing 40 or more shots on most nights through the second half of the season, West got into 37 games and posted a respectable 4.22 GAA and .888 save percentage backing up a young team.

“I came into it just worried about myself, and focusing on what I can control,” said the 20-year-old, who was drafted by the Erie Otters in the 10th round (190th overall) of the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. “It ended up being a great year and I got a lot of awesome opportunities, and I had a lot of fun playing with these guys.”

The Colts celebrated the night with a much-needed win after taking it on the chin the night before with an 11-4 loss in Sudbury.

After Aiden Young opened the scoring for Peterborough (20-39-7-1) midway through the first, Bode Stewart scored his first of two on the power play late in the same frame to tie it.

Tai York would score the winner at 5:37 of the third and then late goals by Stewart and Jelsma, into an empty net, a minute apart late would cap a solid bounce back for Barrie (28-36-4-0).

“After what happened to us up in Sudbury, I think it was important we had a quick meeting when we got off the bus and we wanted to have a more consistent effort and finish our season on a win, so I’m happy with the guys,” said Williamson.

The Generals need a win or overtime loss in their Sunday night game against Sudbury to clinch top spot in the Eastern Conference.

If Barrie faces Oshawa, they’ll open Friday night (7:35 p.m.) in Oshawa, with Game 2 scheduled back there Sunday afternoon (1:05 p.m.). Barrie will host Game 3 next Tuesday night (7 p.m.) and Game 4 on Thursday (7 p.m.)

If North Bay defeats Peterborough on Sunday and the Generals lose in regulation, Barrie will face the Battalion with Game 1 set for Thursday night (7 p.m.) and Game 2 Saturday night (7 p.m.) in North Bay. Barrie will have the same home schedule for Games 3 and 4 as against Oshawa.

After a team function early Sunday, the players will get some time to relax, while Williamson, the coaching staff, and scouts will head down to watch the OHL Cup in preparation for the upcoming draft.

“The coaching staff doesn’t get as much rest, but the players need it more,” said Williamson, adding a chuckle. “That’s important. We got an event tomorrow in the day. It’s a fun event and then Monday will be a day off and we’ll go to work Tuesday.”

While the eighth-seeded Colts will face a tough task regardless of who they face in the first round, West hopes he and his teammates can extend the year.

“I just want to keep it going as long as I can,” said the Colts goaltender. “We just got to worry about it one game at a time and let’s see what happens.”

ICE CHIPS: With Ryan Roobroeck not finding the net in Niagara’s loss to Sudbury last night, Riley Patterson will win the OHL goal-scoring race with 29 goals. One more than Roobroeck. Patterson is also tied with Brantford’s Jake O’Brien at 62 points for first in rookie points this season. O’Brien finishes the season Sunday in Ottawa. . . Hillebrandt made 25 saves to pick up his 16th win this season. . . Zach Bowen stopped 33 of 36 shots for the Petes. . . Kashawn Aitcheson had three assists for Barrie.  

Banner image via Collin Jennings / Barrie Colts

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