The Mississauga Steelheads showed the Barrie Colts Saturday afternoon why they’re sitting atop the OHL standings.
The OHL’s best defensive team kept the Colts in check all game, holding them to just 17 shots enroute to a 3-1 win at Sadlon Arena.
In a contest between two of the OHL’s hottest teams, the Colts (15-8-3-0) could muster little offensively against a Steelheads (22-7-1-2) team that has given up just 74 goals in 32 games.
“It was the good and bad,” Colts general manager and head coach Marty Williamson said after the contest. “I thought they played quite well and they played their normal game. I didn’t think we had our legs. We just didn’t want to stay consistent with the forecheck, consistent with pucks to the net and things like that.
“You start missing opportunities and they’re a team they smother you and they seem to be opportunistic, and we just didn’t have our ‘A’ game today.”
Backed by a big, punishing blueline led by Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ethan Del Mastro, Mississauga limited any kind of time and space the Colts had.
They had few second chances and spent little time in the Steelheads end. Even their lone goal, by Ethan Cardwell late in the contest, was somewhat of a fluke.
The San Jose prospect spun around just inside the blue line and his shot found its way through some traffic and past goaltender Joe Ranger.
“It’s a real good blue line and Del Mastro leads the way there,” Williamson said. “That’s why they got the best goals against. They help their goalie out an awful lot and they bring the puck out so well.
“Besides how they take time and space from you, they do a great job of breaking the puck out. That’s why you got to stay consistent. They’re going to do good things, but you can’t make the game easier on them and give them easier breakouts. You got to stay consistent and wait for your breaks.”
After a fairly even scoreless first, the Steelheads took over in a dominant second period where they grabbed the lead on goals by Kasper Larsen, the first of his OHL career, and Aidan Prueter.
The Colts couldn’t get anything going and were outshot 19-4.
“Every time we’ve played them it’s been a close game, but this one was the most one-sided as far as that second period really put an imbalance to the game,” said Williamson, whose club has split four games with their Central Division rivals this season. “We challenged our guys and had a little better third, but it was too late, too little.”
Innisfil native James Hardie iced the game a little past midway through the third with his 26th goal of the season, moving him into a tie with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds forward Tye Kartye for OHL’s goal-scoring lead.
Despite a solid effort in goal by Mack Guzda, Barrie just couldn’t get pucks to the net.
“There’s a small window there to get pucks to the net, and we passed on it,” Williamson said. “We just didn’t want to do it. It changes the game when you get more pucks to the net. It gives you second opportunities, and it keeps the energy in your team.
“To me, it’s a real mentality. It’s on my stick and I’m bringing it to the net. Yeah, they might block some and might do some good things, but you’re going to get some through rather than just basically making it easy on them by saying, ‘no, I’m not ready to shoot so I’m going to make another pass’ and by that time they smother you.”
The Colts wrap up the weekend with a trip to North Bay for another big division tilt against a team they are trying to chase down in the standings.
“We knew it was a big weekend,” Williamson said. “Instead of a four-point weekend, we want to get a split. Go up to North Bay and it’s not going to be easy. They’re a rested team, they haven’t played in a little bit. I think we’ll get a good effort from them.
“This is starting to get to the second half, where the consistency and the parity in the league gets a lot tighter and you better be ready every night otherwise it’s going to be tough.”
Saturday night’s contest kicked off a busy stretch for the Colts who will wrap up this month with 10 games in 16 days.
Williamson knows he’s going to need contributions from his full lineup.
“You can’t count on one or two guys,” he said. “We need production up and down the lineup. We didn’t get it tonight, so hopefully, it’s there for us tomorrow.”
Game time today at North Bay Memorial Gardens is 2 p.m.
ICE CHIPS: Both teams had earned 17 out of a possible 20 points over their last 10 games coming into Saturday’s contest. . . Newly acquired forward Kevin Niedenz missed his second straight game with COVID-19. . . Rookie Tai York, who started the season with the Cobourg Cougars in the OJHL, will remain with the Colts. The winger has impressed with two goals and four points in seven games. . . Forward Vlad Dvurechenskii has been sent back to the Collingwood Blues. . . Mississauga outshot Barrie, 37-17. No team has scored more than three goals in the four games this season between the two rivals.
images courtesy of TERRY WILSON/OHL IMAGES