The 2012-2013 Barrie Colts will go down as one of the greatest teams in franchise history, coming within one win...one goal of an OHL Championship. It was a heartbreaking way to end a remarkable season full of adversity and a playoff run full of controversial suspensions that made it look like everyone wanted this Colts hockey team to lose.
The Colts however never backed down. They took every blow and came back harder, hungrier and stronger. It was a team full of unsung heroes that rose to the occasion time and time again when the big guns were out of the lineup.
The season started full of promise as looking at this year’s Colts roster you knew they were going to be a top team in the Eastern Conference. The biggest question mark on the season however, was how long would Mark Scheifele be with the team. The NHL lockout allowed the Winnipeg Jets top prospect to start the year in junior and be one of the best players in the entire OHL.
Scheifele dominated racking up 79 points in 45 games and an even more impressive 41 points in 21 games in the post season. Scheifele looked like a man playing among boys but never once did he complain about being in junior. Every day he showed up to the rink with a smile on his face and a goal in mind, a Memorial Cup.
The Colts came out of the gates flying, starting the year 10 and 2 with an eight game winning streak to boot.
The biggest surprise to start the year was the play of power forward Anthony Camara. The Bruins prospect was showing another side to his rough and tough game, a scoring side that hadn’t been seen in his first few years in the OHL. Playing alongside Mark Scheifele the bearded 19 year old had a career year, scoring 36 goals and 60 points in just 50 games.
Camara’s great start to the year put him on the Canadian National Team’s radar and after a fantastic selection camp, Camara joined Colts linemate and best friend Mark Scheifele in Sochi, Russia for the World Juniors.
Camara’s season was not all a fairy tale story as the winger was constantly in trouble with the league as he was suspended five times for a total of 14 games throughout the season and playoffs. He was a marked man and every time he tried to play his physical style he paid the price of serving time in the pressbox.
The acquisition of “The Human Highlight Reel” Andreas Athanasiou from the London Knights gave the Colts another dynamic forward that teams struggled to contain. Athanasiou was finally given the opportunity to showcase his skill and talent under Head Coach Dale Hawerchuk, of which he was never able to do under Dale Hunter. The Red Wings prospect responded with career numbers, 29 goals and 67 points.
Barrie’s defence corps was a question mark coming into the year. The team had all the fire power up front but could they keep the puck out of their net. The answer was a big YES! The young defence was lead by overage Captain Ryan O’Connor who was a force on the backend racking up 18 goals and 53 points.
Alex Lepkowski was another veteran leader patrolling the blueline and was a great shutdown defenceman this year but it was the emergence of the youngsters that really was the difference maker.
Phenom Aaron Ekblad at just 16 years old was a beast and looked like a seasoned veteran at times in his second season. Ekblad finished the year with a plus 29 rating and bested his rookie points total and finished the year with 34 points.
It was in the playoffs when the 1st overall selection of 2011 really shined especially on the offensive side of the puck. Ekblad showed he could rush the puck with confidence and create plays down low and his booming shot was feared by goaltenders. In just 22 playoff games the Belle River native matched his goal total from the season with seven.
Alex Yuill and Michael Webster impressed at times this season, however it was Jonathan Laser who turned a lot of heads with his solid defensive zone game. Laser was the unsung hero on many nights whether it was from shutting down the opposition’s top players or blocking shots late in games to preserve a win. Never the flashiest player and certainly flew under a lot of people’s radars, there is no question Laser is one of the most underrated players in the OHL.
The Most Valuable Player this season is without a question the German netminder nicknamed “The Burglar.” Mathias Niederberger won games on his own this season and kept the Colts in every game. The overager saved his best effort for his last career junior game.
Game 7 of the OHL final, Niederberger made several highlight reel saves to keep an undermanned Colts team in the game. Once again he gave his team a chance to win but it all ended in heartbreak as an unlucky bounce trickled across the goal line with less than a second remaining giving the London Knights a 3-2 win.
It was a season to be proud of for the small German goalie as he was nominated for goaltender of the year and was amongst the top three in almost every statistical category.
Barrie sat atop the Eastern Conference for the majority of the season but a late season charge from the Belleville Bulls pushed the Colts down to second place with a 44-20-2-2 record for 92 points. The Colts were almost unbeatable at the Barrie Molson Centre as they sported the league’s best home record at 27-5-1-1 as well as the top ranked powerplay.
When the playoffs began the Colts for the first time all season had a completely healthy and suspension free lineup. That however lasted a mere two games.
Dale Hawerchuk constantly had to juggle with his lineup all year with players going in and out, and it was to be no different in the playoffs.
Captain Ryan O’Connor was handed a 10 game suspension for what appeared to be a clean open ice hit. It was a harsh blow to a player that had no previous suspensions in five seasons and was in the final games of his junior career.
The hole on the blueline just meant an opportunity for someone to step up and play a bigger role. The same was to be said when Anthony Camara was handed a three game suspension for intentionally flipping the puck into the crowd.
Mitchell Theoret who was acquired at the OHL trade deadline from the Niagara IceDogs took full advantage of his increased ice time and a chance to play alongside Scheifele.
The Islanders prospect who had been traded for the Colts first round pick Brendan Perlini lit it up in the post season collecting 14 goals in 20 games.
Despite the loss of two key players, the Colts rolled through the opening two rounds of the post season sweeping both Kingston and a tough Oshawa squad.
The turning point in each series was a third period comeback from the Colts, something that was oh so familiar to the Colts throughout the season.
Countless times Barrie would fall behind and look destined for a loss but this was a team full of resilience and a character group with a lot of heart.
Each comeback needed someone to spark the team and play the role of hero. Every game it was someone different and that’s what made this Colts team so tough to play against. If you were able to shut down the big guns, the rest of the team knew they would have to step up their game and they did just that.
Down by a goal late in Game 3 in Kingston, the Colts scored two quick goals to win the game and take a commanding 3-0 series lead in a game they had no business winning. In the second round it was a Game 1 comeback which set the tone for the rest of the series. The Generals were cruising up 3-1 when the Colts struck twice to tie the game and then win it just over a minute into overtime off the stick of Zach Hall.
The Eastern Conference Final against the number one ranked Belleville Bulls needed heroes in back to back OT thrillers. Camara ripped a shot past fellow Bruins prospect Malcom Subban with five seconds remaining in overtime in Game 3, then it was rookie Brendan Lemieux scoring the overtime winner in Game 4 to give Barrie a 3-1 series lead.
The Bulls battled back to tie the series but a huge game from Niederberger in Game 7 and a Tyson Fawcett goal propelled the Colts to a 3-1 win and a berth in the final.
The Colts were heavy underdogs going up against the beasts of the West in the London Knights. The Colts never backed down and built up a commanding 3-1 series lead after two thrilling wins at the BMC.
Mark Scheifele silenced all his critics putting up 10 points in two games including a four goal third period that mounted the greatest period of hockey by a Barrie Colt in franchise history.
The Knights cut the series to 3-2 as a third period Colts comeback fell just short in Game 5 and it was back to Barrie for Game 6 and another chance for the Colts to end the series.
The Knights built a commanding 4-0 lead and were in full cruise control especially after Scheifele left the game early in the third period with an injury. With the Colts star forward out, the rest of the team capped a comeback for the ages scoring four goals including three in the final five minutes to tie the game. This story did not have a fairy tale ending for Colts fans as the Knights won in overtime and then took Game 7, crushing the Colts dreams of an OHL Championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup.
The Barrie Colts will be in great shape to make another run at an OHL Championship come next season with a good chunk of returning players.
Alex Fotinos will go into the year as the clear cut number one after backing up Mathias Niederberger the past two seasons.
Barrie’s defence is virtually untouched with a guaranteed six returnees as overager Ryan O’Connor is the only player who won’t be returning for certain. Alex Lepkowski has a chance of returning as an overager but as it stands Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Laser, Alex Yuill, Michael Webster, Jake Dotchin and CJ Garcia will all be back.
The forward corps will take a big hit with the losses of Scheifele, Camara and Steven Beyers but the team is still deep at the position. Zach Hall who lead the team in points with 81 and Mitchell Theoret can both return as overagers, Erik Bradford, Josh MacDonald and Andreas Athanasiou will be counted on for scoring and after great rookie seasons Brendan Lemieux and Justin Scott will see bigger roles.
Lemieux is already following in his father Claude’s footsteps as one of the most hated players in the league and plays his role as an agitator near perfectly.
Dylan Corson and Devin Rymarchuk will be back in checking roles while Tyson Fawcett and Cody Brown will fight for an overager slot in the lineup.
There’s no question the 2013-2014 Barrie Colts can’t contend once again especially with the outstanding coaching staff of Dale Hawerchuk, Jay Wells and Todd Miller behind the bench.
This past season is one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Hold your heads high and be proud of what you accomplished, the sun will rise tomorrow and a new day will be upon you.