Todd Miller wasn’t sure what his young defenceman was doing taking off for the front of the net with the Barrie Colts trying to protect a 3-1 lead late in the third period.
Connor Punnett made good on the move, though, and buried his second goal of the game and second of his OHL career, turning what might have been a stern talk upon his return to the bench into a big smile from the Colts head coach.
“The second one, he’s down on their goal line in a 3-1 game,” Miller said after Barrie’s 4-1 win over the host Owen Sound Attack, Wednesday night, at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre. “I was like, ‘Oh no, where he’s going’ and he tapped it in. I wanted to be mad and obviously I can’t be mad because he scored.
“That play drives the coach nuts, but you know what? He scored, I can’t get upset.”
It was a big night for the rookie defenceman, who was acquired from the Saginaw Spirit at the OHL trade deadline. Punnett had just four assists in 50 games coming in, but he would get the first goal of his OHL career when Victor Hadfield dropped a pass to him in the slot and the Huntsville native fired one upstairs over the right blocker of Attack goaltender Mack Guzda to open the scoring a little less than three minutes into the second period.
The 16-year-old didn’t wait long to get his second goal, walking in front and shovelling home a rebound off an Aidan Brown shot to ice the win.
“It was valuable for him to get a goal and then a second one to boost his confidence, and just going back on defence,” said Miller, who had Punnett back on the blueline after he played his last three games on the wing. “I wanted to make sure I put him on defence this week because you get down the stretch you’re going to need him. We’re going to need everybody.
“I’m really happy for him and I think it’ll go a long way getting that first one off his back.”
Josh Nelson and Ethan Cardwell also scored for the Colts (29-28-4-2), who moved five points up on the Mississauga Steelheads for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings with just two weekends remaining on the regular-season schedule.
“It was huge for us and now we’re getting set for the next one,” said Miller, whose club opens a home-and-home set against the North Bay Battalion Saturday night in Barrie. “I talked to them about North Bay and this weekend. It’s a huge weekend for us if we want more separation.
“Kudos to our guys, they played the way I wanted them to play tonight and they bought into what I was preaching to them before the game, and it worked out for them.”
Barrie native Barret Kirwin had the lone goal for the Attack (30-24-4-4), which dropped the season series to its Highway 26 rivals, 4-2.
Making his second start in the last three games, Jet Greaves made it two-straight wins with an impressive 42-save effort. He was especially good in a scoreless first period when Barrie was outshot, 18-11.
“It’s going to build his confidence,” Miller said of Greaves. “He’s played well the last few games. I’m not going to blame him for some of the games when we didn’t defend well in front of him. When he sees it, he stops it. He’s got probably one of the best gloves in the league. Just moving east, west you could see he was strong.
“He’s so quick to everything, he really gave us a chance to win all night long. That first 10 minutes of the game he was under siege there and I felt he’s the reason why (we survived that). All game long he just settled it down every time they got something around the net.”
Miller felt the slow start was the result of getting away from their game plan heading into the game.
“They’re probably one of the most skilled teams in the neutral zone with speed and we had a game plan for that,” he said. “(We) got away from that in the first, but we reiterated after the first period what we were trying to do to create speed. They understood what I was trying to preach to them and it’s nice to see they actually did that and stayed with it.
“We trapped them a lot in the neutral zone where they love to generate speed. (Adam) McMaster and those type of players, that’s what they use to gain entry into your zone. We did a good job of flushing that out and just staying patient.”
Puck drop Saturday night against the Battalion is 7:30 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Hadfield scored late in the game to make it 5-1, but the goal was called back because of a hand pass…With the NBA announcing they were suspending play after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for coronavirus, many expect the NHL to follow suit today and possibly the OHL…Colts forward Nicholas Porco celebrates his 19th birthday Thursday.
feature image of Connor Punnett via Terry Wilson/OHL Images