Published April 8, 2024

Colts’ playoff run comes to end with loss to Oshawa

Eliminated from the OHL playoffs after a 3-0 loss to the Oshawa Generals on Sunday night at Sadlon Arena, Beau Jelsma and the Barrie Colts worked their way through the traditional handshake line at centre ice.

As Generals defenceman Connor Punnett approached him, Jelsma gave him a quick handshake, but then put his arms around the former Colts captain and gave him a big hug.

The battle behind them, the former teammates wished each other well.

“He was my best friend,” said Jelsma, who was named captain after the rebuilding Colts traded Punnett to Oshawa at the OHL trade deadline in early January. “I’ve been with him here since Day 1 and I’m super happy to see him go on and hopefully go for a championship. And to see him sign a contract (with the Dallas Stars), was just awesome, too.

“Definitely made some life-long memories with him, and I’m excited for him, and hopefully everything works out for him.”

Marty Williamson traded Punnett to give the overager an opportunity at a long playoff run with the Generals who would go on to wrap up top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

As fate would have it on this night, Punnett sealed the 4-2 first-round best-of-seven series win for Oshawa by firing the puck into an empty net with just 59 seconds remaining.

“That’s what I joked with him on the line there,” said the Colts general manager and head coach. “I said I didn’t trade you to just beat us. I said if you’re going to do it, then go all the way.

“Punnett’s a great kid and I wish him nothing but huge success with this year and also his pro career.”

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It was an emotional night for a young Colts team that had faced much adversity throughout the series and had staved off elimination with a 3-0-win Friday in Oshawa.

Luca D’Amato’s point shot hit a Colt in front and changed direction to get past Sam Hillebrandt at 5:11 of the first period for all the offence the Generals would need this night.

Oshawa would add some insurance when Ben Danford spotted Luke Torrance alone in front at 7:51 of the second, before Punnett’s empty netter in the last minute finally put away the determined, underdog Colts.

“I thought they played hard though,” Williamson said of his team. “We didn’t quite seem to have our legs as I wanted, but they battled as hard as they could and, unfortunately, we had a mistake in the second period that cost us with that goal and the hill was just too big to climb.”

The heavily favoured Generals came into the playoffs having won 12 straight and were expected to sweep a Colts team that finished eighth in the conference.

Instead, Barrie gave Oshawa, who will now face the Ottawa 67's in one Eastern Conference semi-final series, all they could handle.

“Everyone counted us out,” said Barrie defenceman Kayshawn Aitcheson. “We took that as a challenge and we kind of ran with it. Obviously, in the playoffs you need a couple of bounces, a couple of calls, a little bit of luck, but sometimes that just doesn’t go your way.

“We had the work ethic all series long and we battled hard and made them work for every single win.”

After a 4-2 win in the series opener, the Colts nearly came home with a 2-0 series lead, but a tying goal with eight seconds remaining by Cole Beaudoin was called off after a lengthy review said the play was whistled down.

Replays showed otherwise. It was one of several calls and penalties that didn’t seem to go their way.

“We weren’t supposed to win that series,” said Jelsma. “Everyone was all in our ear about it and how we were going to get swept and all that, and just the fight from these boys to even go to Game 6 is awesome. I just love how we fought, and we never gave up.

Honestly, it could have gone any way. If some calls had gone our way, it could have gone any way. But that’s how life goes, and we’re just going to move on.”

Williamson was proud of the battle his young club showed throughout the series, they just couldn’t seem to get a break.  

“Effort is one thing that we can control, and I thought our guys gave it,” he said. “Luck is something we can’t control, and we just didn’t seem to get one break in this series. It really kind of went up against us. We could have been up 3-2 heading into this game, and this would be going back (to Oshawa Tuesday) for Game 7, but you got to have both to win a championship.

“We had the effort; we just didn’t have the luck.”

The elimination marked the end of the junior careers for overagers Ben West and Thomas Stewart. West shared the net duties with Hillebrandt all season long and carried the team at times.

Stewart, who came over in the deadline deal for Punnett along with draft picks, had a tough end to his night in the second period when he dove to break up an Oshawa rush and ended up crashing into the back boards heavily, injuring his right foot and having to leave the game.

After the game, Oshawa players all headed over to the Barrie bench in a show of support for their former teammate.

“You can’t put words into it. You just feel for him bad,” said Williamson. “Our overage has given us everything out there, and he can’t even finish our game with us. It’s tough. It’s tough to watch, but you don’t know what a character and what a great young man this is. This kid is going to be pretty successful just as a person.”

With most of the club returning next season, Jelsma believes this experience will help them moving forward.

They were in a tough place back at the trade deadline. Key parts like Eduard Sale, Jacob Frasca, Anson Thornton, Olivier Savard, and Punnett were all moved as the Colts focused on the future.

As difficult as the season coming to an end last night is, the Colts’ captain feels he and his teammates can be proud of what they accomplished over the second half in making the playoffs and giving the top team in the East all it can handle.  

“There was definitely a little time period that we were down. We went through a tough, tough couple of weeks with losing streaks and whatnot,” said Jelsma of the period after the deadline. “I think we just kind of figured it out and we just worked as hard as we could and got rewarded and turned out to have an amazing season for what people expected us to have.

“To make the playoffs and do what we did, honestly I am just so happy for the group.”

ICE CHIPS: Ottawa topped the Brantford Bulldogs 6-1 last night at home to win in six games. The other Eastern Conference semi-final series will pit the North Bay Battalion against the Sudbury Wolves. . . Oshawa outshot Barrie 37-32. . . Oshawa’s Beckett Sennecke avoided suspension and played in last night’s game after the top NHL prospect was handed a five-minute major and game misconduct in Game 5 on Friday for delivering a head check to Aitcheson. . . Attendance last night was 3,994. . . The OHL Priority Selection is being held this Friday and Saturday. The Colts hold the fifth overall pick.

banner image: The Barrie Colts

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