Published September 28, 2023

Opportunity brought Patterson to Colts, now he’s ready to deliver

Asked if he’s going to have any opening-night jitters when the puck drops on the Barrie Colts season Thursday night, Riley Patterson laughs out loud before leaving no doubt with his answer.

“Oh, for sure!” said the Colts rookie, who along with his teammates kick off their 2023-24 schedule against the North Bay Battalion at Sadlon Arena. “They’re going to be there, but I’ll just use that for positive energy and take that on the ice.”

The talented centre is one of several new faces on a young Barrie team anxious to show this is far from a rebuilding year after losing the likes of Evan Vierling, Ethan Cardwell, and Brandt Clarke to pro hockey.

“Training camp was a lot of fun, getting to know all the guys and the weeks of that, but I’m excited for it to start up,” said the 17-year-old, whose rights were acquired from Flint in the summer. “I worked hard through the summer; I worked hard though training camp. I’m just really excited for myself and for the team.”  

If the Colts are to finish in the upper half of the Eastern Conference standings and contend for a Central Division title, newcomers like Patterson, import pick and 2023-24 Seattle Kraken first-round selection Eduard Sale, import pick Endo Meier and Bode Stewart, acquired from Saginaw, will have to help fill the offensive void left by the departure of Cardwell and Vierling up front.

Along with Clarke, the trio combined for 101 of Barrie’s 284 goals and 246 points altogether.

That opportunity is a huge reason why Patterson is here. The Burlington native had been drafted by Flint and decided instead to pass on the Firebirds commit to go the NCAA route with Michigan State University.

That was until the Colts came along and offered six picks to Flint and a chance for Patterson to play a key role right from the hop.

“I think that’s everyone’s goal playing hockey. Being able to have the opportunity is huge,” the six-foot, 194-pound forward said of the chance to play key minutes in a top-six role. “I’m going to do everything I can with it and just have the confidence where I trust my teammates around me and to have the trust of the coaches is huge.”

Colts head coach has already seen how Patterson can be a difference maker. He watched him dominate as a 16-year-old in Tier II Jr. A with North York, racking up 30 goals and 43 assists with the Rangers enroute to being named both the Ontario Junior Hockey League and Canadian Junior Hockey League rookie of the year.

“He’s extremely intelligent,” said Williamson. “He’s a sponge, he wants to work hard. Riley’s just going to have a really good year and he’s just going to keep getting better and better as he gets used to the league and everything.

“We’re really impressed with everything he brings to the rink every day.”

Patterson sees himself as more than just a good offensive player.

“I’m a good two-way power forward,” he said. “I love forechecking, playing defence. I care about 200-ft around the ice. I’m able to put the puck in the net, make my teammates around me better.”

Williamson is excited about his two young centres down the middle with Patterson and returning top pick from last year Cole Beaudoin.

The Colts head coach saw some chemistry between Patterson and Sale before the Seattle prospect headed to NHL camp and figures the duo could step right in and produce.

“He’s got the ability to make plays and he’s got a wonderful shot,” Williamson said of Patterson’s game. “When he’s open, he’s got the combination to make the offensive play. He’s learning about the rest of the game, and he didn’t have that last year and now it’s a little bit different for him.

“Just his willingness to jump in and how accountable he is, I just know he’s going to pick it up really quick.”

The Colts as a team will have to pick things up rather quickly thanks to a busy opening weekend schedule.

They head to North Bay on Friday to wrap up the home-and-home with the Troops and then close out a three-games-in-three nights set in Owen Sound on Saturday.

“We’re a young hockey team, but we’re a vary talented team. I think we’re one of those teams that as long as we have the mindset of keep getting better, we’re going to be extremely strong in this second half,” said Williamson. “What we haven’t learned so far through this preseason is, and again to me, the first two weeks of the season is almost preseason because you lose all your guys.

“We haven’t had Jacob Frasca, Connor Punnett, Beau Akey, and these kinds of guys very long, so we got to go back through a learning curve that way. But there’s a lot of good things, a lot of good pieces here and we just got to see how it all meshes.”

The early schedule will especially be a good test for the young players.

 I think for the young guys, what is going to be the biggest challenge is playing three games in three nights and three games in four nights,” said Williamson. “We seen them (play) one game and they can do a real good job, but this league is a tough league and to play night-after-night that’s the big challenge for young players.”

The Colts named their captain on the eve of their season opener, selecting Punnett.

“Connor is a player that has taken massive strides in his games since we traded for him,” said Williamson of the 24th captain in franchise history. “To go along with the character, he has shown strong leadership capabilities on and off the ice.

“He was the obvious choice to lead our group this season and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Game time tonight in Barrie is 7 p.m.

Banner image: Barrie Colts named defenceman Connor Punnett team captain on Wednesday

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