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Thornton relishing opportunity to play a leading role in the crease for the Barrie Colts

"I think Barrie is a going to be a great opportunity for me"

By Gene Pereira

It may be just a scrimmage at Barrie Colts training camp, but that doesn’t stop Anson Thornton from pleading his case of goalie interference.

In the end, the referee agrees and Tai York’s goal is disallowed. Thornton stops all 15 shots he faces in his half of the scheduled scrimmage and helps his Gold team grab a 4-0 lead en route to a win.

There are no real points in the standings handed out in the scrimmage, but for the 19-year-old who was acquired from the Sarnia Sting in a trade this summer, he’s determined to prove he’s ready to play a leading role this season in the crease for Barrie.

“I think Barrie is a going to be a great opportunity for me,” said the Arizona Coyotes prospect, whom the Colts are hoping will grab the starter’s reins and help fill the void left by the departure of Mack Guzda to the pro ranks. “It’s a great spot and obviously coming over here to play more games, and hopefully, at the end, we’re going to be a winning team and win a championship.”

Thornton’s arrival in Barrie was in part his own making. With Sting starter and San Jose Sharks prospect Ben Gaudreau returning, the Maple native realized there simply wasn’t enough room in the crease for both, and Thornton requested a trade.

“A little bit,” he said when asked if he wanted a trade. “It came down to wanting to play more games. One of us was going to have to go. In Sarnia, we had two great goalies, so at the end of the day they just had to make a move.”

As a backup to Gaudreau, Thornton got into 26 games with the Sting and finished with a respectable 4.06 goals against average and .883 save percentage in his first OHL season on a rebuilding club that just squeaked into the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Opportunity is what Thornton wanted, and he’ll get that with the Colts, though it won’t be handed to him. Barrie also acquired the rights to 19-year-old goalie Ben West from the Erie Otters.

Still, the opportunity is there, and it’s all Thornton relishes.

“It’s something I wanted to have, moving to a new team,” said the six-foot-four southpaw, who attended Arizona’s camp last year as a free agent and impressed them enough to earn a pro contract. “I wanted to have an opportunity, so hopefully I can take it and run with it.”

Colts goalie coach David Belitski has followed Thornton throughout his minor hockey career. He’s thrilled the Colts jumped when the chance was there to grab him.

“Obviously, he’s a strong addition to our team, and we’re going to be counting on him a lot,” said Belitski. “I think it’s a good opportunity for him to play some games and get a lot of experience under his belt and be a leader on this team for us.”

What especially stands out for Belitski about his new goaltender is that he’s arrived here and become an NHL prospect despite taking a somewhat more difficult path. Passed over as a minor midget in the OHL draft, he was selected by the Sting third overall a year later in the OHL’s Under-18 midget draft.

In minor midget, Belitski recalls Thornton may have been only 5’7 or 5’8. He was a kid that grew a little bit later.

“With goalies in particular, especially today, they need time to grow, time to develop, and I think he’s taken that path,” added the Barrie goalie coach. “He was a midget draft, got a chance to get to an NHL camp, and improved himself really well where Arizona decided to sign him. He’s accomplished a lot in a short period of time.

“With that being said, he’s looking at being a No. 1 goalie in this league, and what we want to do is create some good competition in the crease and some stability and I think we’ve done that so far.”

Despite missing a year of development due to COVID, Thornton never lost sight of his goal.

“He’s a good lesson for a lot of us,” said Belitski. “Keep your eyes set on a goal and stay focused on it.”

Sharing the crease in Sarnia with a member of Hockey Canada’s junior hockey program can prove a challenge, but it was an opportunity Thornton relished and used to better himself.

“It was great playing with Benny last year, both us battling every day and competing,” he said. “Just both of us working for that No. 1 spot and that was great for both of us.”

Belitski says Thornton reminds him a lot of former Barrie Colts goalie and current NHLer Michael Hutchinson. Thornton, he says, has very good athleticism and is both strong and powerful. He also positions himself well and his reads are “very good.”

Both he and Hutchinson are solid on first shots and have the athleticism to make what he says are “spectacular saves.”

“Last year was really his first year in the league, and we forget it takes time,” Belitski said of Thornton. “Experience is something you can’t buy, you really got to go through the ups and downs and the highs and lows throughout a season and really understand what it’s like being a goaltender in the Ontario Hockey League.”

While Thornton expects to play more, the goalie wanted to keep his training routine over the summer similar to years past.

The Coyotes have let him know what they are looking for this summer from his game.

“They gave me a couple of things to work on, mostly get bigger and stronger,” said Thornton. “They said this is going to be a great spot for me, and obviously I’m going to be playing more games and that’s best for my career.”

Thornton has worked for the opportunity and Belitski believes along with West, the two newest crease additions have the tools to develop into a strong tandem.

Thornton may have taken a somewhat different path here, but for his goalie coach, he’s certainly earned it.

“He’s developed into a real strong goaltender,” Belitski said of Thornton. “Like anything, there’s no guarantees in this sport, but he’s a kid who has worked hard, and I think he’s deserving of the opportunity.

“We’re certainly excited to have him.”

banner image: Barrie Colts