With the Christmas season upon us and the start of the World Juniors, it marks the midway point of the OHL season. The Barrie Colts have certainly experienced their fair share of ups and downs through 34 games but despite a slow start to the year, the team finds themselves in 4th place with an 18-13-1-2 record in the Eastern Conference.
The Colts have experienced struggles and uncertainties at every position. Early in the year it was a question of which goaltender would take the reins and solidify them self as a number 1 goaltender. That question was made easier when veteran Alex Fotinos was shipped to Windsor and rookie Mackenzie Blackwood’s strong play gave the Colts brass hope that they had found their number 1 man.
European import Daniel Gibl has also surprised many with his energetic style and has earned more starts as the season has worn on and is looking to have given the Colts a good 1-2 punch in goal. Barrie has given up the second fewest goals in the league at just 98 and trail only the powerhouse Erie Otters in that category.
Barrie’s defence was said to be a strong point coming into the year with 6 returnees on the backend and for the most part they have delivered, none more so than third year defenceman Jake Dotchin. The hulking defenceman came to camp 20 pounds lighter, much quicker and has excelled in every way this season. Dotchin has the ability to change the momentum of a game with a thunderous hit, a fight or a goal as the third year d-man has scored a career high 6 goals thus far and is a team high plus 21.
Aaron Ekblad once again has looked like a man amongst boys, dominating game in and game out. Ekblad’s excellent play earned himself a spot on Canada’s World Junior squad and the 17 year old is projected to go 2nd overall in the upcoming NHL Draft. With his strong play he could very well leap Sam Reinhart of the Kootney Ice and be the first name called in Philadelphia.
The Colts captain has scored a career high 10 goals and will play an integral part on how far this Colts team can go this season.
Barrie’s offence was uncertain coming into the year but quieted the critics early scoring 14 times in the opening 2 games of the year. A dry spell in October however brought all the skeptics back when the team lost 6 straight and scored just 8 goals in that span and fell to the bottom of the conference.
The offence has certainly woken back up since then and the Colts have relied heavily on their veteran trio of Andreas Athanasiou, Mitchell Theoret and Zach Hall to produce.
At times a streaky player, Athanasiou has that game breaking ability with his blazing speed to bring every fan out of their seat. The Red Wings prospect has been on fire the last 2 months, recording 31 of his team leading 45 points in November and December. Athanasiou certainly went into the break on a high with a career night, scoring 4 goals in a 7-2 win against the Sarnia Sting.
The biggest and most pleasant surprise upfront for Barrie has been rookie free agent Andrew Mangiapane. The 17 year old leads all rookies with 14 goals and has worked himself from the Colts 4th line to their 1st. Mangiapane always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His hockey smarts are unbelievable and his tireless work ethic has not gone unnoticed by Head Coach Dale Hawerchuk. The rookie is a plus 19 and is becoming a fan favourite in Barrie.
With the Eastern Conference being the weaker Conference this season it’s still uncertain if the Colts will be buyers or sellers as the trade deadline nears.
General Manager Jason Ford made three moves in the last couple of weeks but none of which were blockbuster deals to indicate the direction the team was heading this season. Garrett Hooey will add depth upfront and Nick Pastorious will add some grit while Mac Clutsam is a mobile defenceman who replaces Alex Yuill on the backend who was dealt for Hooey.
There is no question Barrie can compete with any team in the Eastern Conference and even the West having already beat London, Sault Saint Marie, and losing just 3-2 to Guelph, but can they compete in a 7 game series? A lot of question marks still swirl around this year’s Colts team and they will all be answered as the second half of the season begins December 28th.