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PREVIEW: Colts have little room for error versus Generals

First-round playoff series starts tonight in Oshawa; Barrie will require 'unworldy' goaltending to get past conference's top seed, says columnist
Barrie Colts forward Beau Jelsma takes a shot on Oshawa Generals goaltender Noah Bender in this file photo.

It’s straightforward. The Barrie Colts will need to pull off one of the Ontario Hockey League’s biggest upsets in recent memory if they are to win their playoff series that begins tonight in Oshawa against the Generals.

After a wobbly start to their season, the Generals have hit their collective stride in the past six weeks. Included in their lineup is former Colts captain Connor Punnett, who recently signed with the Dallas Stars.

Despite the tough task the Colts have in front of them, it could be worse. They’ve made it this far and, until the holiday break, the playoffs were not guaranteed as Barrie sat ninth in the OHL's Eastern Conference.

That led to some tough decisions ahead of the January trade deadline that eventually saw the Colts move out a number of players, Punnett included.

After a mini-bump before Christmas, the defending league champion Peterborough Petes deciding to sell at the deadline and the continued on-ice issues of the sad-sack Niagara IceDogs helped get the Colts inside the playoff cut-off line.

With new blood in the lineup and other holdovers getting a chance to play a bigger role, for a time, it even looked like sixth or seventh place could be a possibility. But February road losses in Mississauga and Kingston poured cold water on those hopes.

The Colts have been locked into the eighth seed ever since, waiting to see who would finish atop the Eastern Conference standings.

The Generals' win on the final day of the regular-season schedule produced the current match-up. Game 2 takes place on Sunday in Oshawa and then the series travels to Barrie for Game 3 and Game 4 on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

Realistically, the Colts have little chance against the Generals. A more reasonable goal would be to perhaps steal a game on the road and split their home games next week. If the series remains going for Game 5 next Friday in Oshawa, the Colts can take heart that they will have done more than many expected of them.

There are two recent games in the season’s second half that offer some hope, however faint. In late January, the Colts beat the Generals in a shootout. The home team got outstanding goaltending that night, tied up the game in the third period and won on a beautiful goal by Roenick Jodoin.

About a month later, the Colts travelled to Sudbury to play the Wolves in a mid-week game as the league was investigating whether a bounty had been placed on Colts defenceman Kashawn Aitcheson in an earlier game in Barrie.

Aitcheson sat out pending the results of the investigation and the Colts were forced to use four 16- and 17-year-old defencemen, but rode great goaltending and timely scoring to win 7-3 in what was perhaps their most impressive victory of the season.

Whether the Colts can continually conjure up that sort of effort and result against the conference’s best and hottest team is unlikely, but, well, hope is a wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, things have gone the other way since then. The team lost seven of its last nine games. Both victories came at home against the IceDogs and Petes, the two Eastern Conference doormats.

The Colts limping into the post-season was brought about by injuries and made worse by a compressed schedule. Even while the team was playing much better in February, Colts head coach and general manager Marty Williamson pointed out that his team had little margin for error.

Sure enough, players such as Aitcheson and Grayson Tiller on the back end and forwards Chris Grisolia, Jodoin and Zach Wigle have been out of the lineup for various reasons.

The Colts will require unworldly goaltending from one or both of Sam Hillebrandt or Ben West and will need to get outstanding performances from newly installed captain Beau Jelsma and his fellow forwards Cole Beaudoin, Riley Patterson and Tai York. Bode Stewart, a second-year player who came to Barrie in an off-season trade, has played much better over the past month or so.

Aitcheson and overage defenceman Thomas Stewart, who went the other way in the Punnett trade, will play yeoman’s minutes and will have their work cut out for them against Generals forwards Connor Lockhart, Dylan Roobroeck, Calum Ritchie and Beckett Sennecke.

Punnett is just one of a few top-end defencemen on Oshawa’s roster.

Looking past this series, Beaudoin will likely get an invite to participate in the World U18 Championship slated for Finland in April. Typically, Hockey Canada picks players among the Canadian Hockey League’s non-playoff teams and those that are eliminated in the opening round of the post-season.

Beaudoin won gold with Team Canada in August at the Hlinka-Gretzky U18 tournament.


Game 1: Friday, March 29 – Barrie at Oshawa, 7:35 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday, March 31 – Barrie at Oshawa, 1:05 p.m.
Game 3: Tuesday, April 2 – Oshawa at Barrie, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Thursday, April 4 – Oshawa at Barrie, 7 p.m.
* Game 5: Friday, April 5 – Barrie at Oshawa, 7:35 p.m.
* Game 6: Sunday, April 7 – Oshawa at Barrie, 6 p.m.
* Game 7: Tuesday, April 9 – Barrie at Oshawa, 7:05 p.m.
(* if necessary)


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Peter Robinson

About the Author: Peter Robinson

Barrie's Peter Robinson is a sports columnist for BarrieToday. He is the author of Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto, his take on living with the disease of being a Leafs fan.
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