The 2013-2014 OHL season is upon us and for the returning players on the Barrie Colts, the devastating Game 7 loss just a few months ago is still fresh on their minds.
But with a new season, brings new opportunities and when you ask any Colt player about that game in London, they are quick to say it is a forgotten memory and the goal this year is to be right back in the OHL final once again.
“You just have to learn from it, you can’t dwell on it,” Said Colts defenceman Jonathan Laser. “It’s a new season now, new start. Obviously we’re trying to get back there and we just have to use that memory as fire to get back there and win it.”
With 18 returning players, there is no question Barrie is once again a favourite to be atop the Eastern Conference at the end of the season.
Their biggest strength will be on the backend with six returning defenceman. Captain Ryan O’Connor and veteran Alex Lepkowski, who have both moved onto the pro ranks is a big loss but with newly named team captain and top ranked prospect Aaron Ekblad leading the way, this Colts defence is not an easy group to play against.
Jonathon Laser, Alex Yuill, Jake Dotchin and Ekblad are all now in their third seasons in the OHL while Michael Webster and CJ Garcia enter their second year.
“It’s nice to play with guys you’re familiar with and getting that experience coming back after going on that long playoff run last year and everyone had a good summer, it’s definitely good having a lot of guys returning back there this year.” Says Laser.
Dotchin came to camp 20 pounds lighter and his foot speed is much improved. Garcia has looked phenomenal, skating with confidence and looking like a veteran in this league despite only playing 29 games in his rookie year.
Barrie currently has nine defencemen still on their roster with Josh Carrick, Liam Maaskant and Jayme Forslund fighting for the two remaining spots on the backend.
One question mark entering the season is will the Colts be able to score like they did last year without Mark Scheifele, Anthony Camara and Steven Beyers. The three players amounted for 91 goals and 208 points and were an integral part of the Colts run to the OHL final.
If game one of the season was any indication of what to except this year, I think it’s safe to say that Barrie will have no trouble with offence. The Colts lit up Jake Paterson and a very tough Saginaw Spirit squad 7-4 in front of just under 3000 fans in the home opener at the Barrie Molson Centre on Thursday night.
“I think tonight (Thursday) was a big thing for us getting seven goals, really proves we have depth on this team and from last year’s playoffs the guys who really didn’t play that much can play now and they can put the puck in the net. I think everybody has a lot of skill otherwise they wouldn’t be here.” Said Colts winger Josh MacDonald.
Barrie enters the year with two of the best overagers in the OHL as leading scorer Zach Hall and Mitchell Theoret both return for their final OHL season after being sent back to Barrie after attending NHL training camps.
Andreas Athanasiou who is one of the most explosive players in the OHL is determined as ever after having a breakout year in his first season in Barrie last year. The 19 year old is looking to make a case for Team Canada and the World Junior squad with his game breaking ability and blazing speed.
Returning forwards Josh MacDonald, Erik Bradford, Brendan Lemieux and Tyson Fawcett will be given bigger roles this season and expectations are high for them to produce.
MacDonald, who enters his third year was in Dale Hawerchuk’s doghouse for the majority of last season will be given every opportunity to prove he is a top six forward in this league. MacDonald got off to a hot start to the year as the London native found the back of the net twice against the Spirit.
“It’s definitely a big thing for me I think getting a couple tonight was big and keeping it going is the big thing,” Said Macdonald after his two goal performance. “Playing with certain guys and getting some chemistry going with the guys and getting to know what they do and get to the quiet spots on the ice and put the puck in the back of the net I think is going to be huge for us this year.”
Also returning is Dylan Corson and Justin Scott. Devin Rymarchuk just completed wrist surgery and there is no timeline for the wingers return. Overager Cody Brown looks to be the odd man out with Hall, Theoret and Fawcett filling the three overager positions but the 20 year old will remain with the team for the time being.
New faces up front include; first round pick Matthew Kreis who potted his first career OHL goal in the season opener. The 16 year has shown no fear in his short time in Barrie thus far and is a threat to score everytime he touches the puck.
Andrew Mangiapane was brought into camp as a free agent and impressed the coaching stuff with his terrific speed and ability to score goals. Kevin Lebanc and Cordell James are also in their rookie seasons.
The most interesting battle will be between the pipes and who will be able to grab the number one starter’s position. Alex Fotinos is the guy for now but if he struggles like he did last year he could quickly find himself back on the bench. Slovakian import Daniel Gibil and Mackenzie Blackwood were equally as good in camp and are waiting for their opportunity at the starter’s role.